Dead Divas Society
When preparing her previous release, Lucky Girl, Jacqui Naylor invited 90 friends and fans to listen to 25 selections and vote on each, ultimately recording the top 15 tunes. Such democracy continues with Dead Divas Society, though less formally. As the puckishly morbid title suggests, Naylor’s intent is to pay tribute to departed singers who have influenced her. Its 15 tracks were recorded live at San Francisco’s Coast Recorders in front off a hand-selected audience of 150, all polled in advance for suggestions. The final tally of 14 divas (Peggy Lee is saluted twice) extends from Ella, Billie and Sarah to Cass Elliot, Amy Winehouse and, another display of Naylor’s impishness, Freddie Mercury and Luther Vandross.
Naylor, whose striking sound seems equal parts Holiday and Pearl Bailey, is in superb form throughout, tight as ever with longtime bandmates Art Khu (piano, organ, guitar), Jon Evans (bass) and Josh Jones (drums, percussion). As on Lucky Girl, they exercise their trademark “acoustic smashing”—the layering of a jazz standard atop a rock classic—just once, unfolding an ebullient “Feelin’ Good” (for Nina Simone) over a sizzling “I Shot the Sheriff.” Often opting for less obvious choices—“Skylark” for Ella, “Gravy Waltz” for Sarah, “They Say It’s Spring” for Blossom Dearie—Naylor shapes a consistently inspired olio, and her inky rendering of Winehouse’s “Back to Black” is a particular standout.