Pennies From Heaven
Justin Time Records
As a card-carrying Canadian, I'll confess a distinct bias for fellow Canucks Susie Arioli and Jordan Officer. It is, however, more than just nationalist pride that encourages me to sing their praises. Officer and Arioli are better than any other contemporary duo at capturing the convivial zest of Les Paul and Mary Ford. On their second Justin Time release, Pennies From Heaven (credited to the Susie Arioli Swing Band, but clearly a collaborative effort) they serve up a unique brand of countrified swing that's as bracing as a bourbon sour during a Tennessee heat wave. Though Arioli's phrasing owes an obvious debt to Billie Holiday, there's also the peppery suggestion of Anita O'Day, particularly on her devil-may-care reading of "Foolin' Myself" and a torchy rendition of "Night and Day" that skillfully balances unfulfilled desire with fanciful yearning. Her down-home treatments of "I'll Never Smile Again" and "Do Nothing 'Til You Hear From Me" are delectably pastoral and her demeaningly conciliatory "Don't Explain," less obviously pained than Holiday's, effectively conveys the bittersweet irresistibility of destructive relationships. (Funnily enough, though, the like-minded "He Needs Me" falls disappointedly flat.) For his part, Officer gets to cut loose on two instrumental originals, "Jordan's Boogie" and "Walter's Flat," that fuse Paul's peerless control with the energy of Al Caiola and gutsy confidence of Chet Atkins. Both, however, pale in comparison to the powerful appeal of his union with Canada's foremost guitarist, the inimitable Jeff Healey, on the ideally titled "Having Fun."