Judging by her debut disc, Catherine “Cat” Russell has already used up all nine of her musical lives. I can’t recall another vocal album that tries to do so much all at once. It’s got torch songs, soul burners, honky-tonk, down-home country and the blues. It’s got, in addition to the standard piano, bass and drums, accordion, banjo, mandolin, violin, tambourine and organ. It’s got 15 tracks jammed into 43 minutes. If the liner notes didn’t list all the musicians, I’d swear the ghost of the otherworldly Esquivel was in there, too.
Fortunately, Russell is blessed with a voice as big and authoritative as Linda Ronstadt’s, the uncorked energy of early Motown (predominantly Mary Wells, with a little Tammi Terrell on the side) and the brass of Dinah Washington. She can ignite fantasies of stolen midnight kisses with her sly sojourn through “The Late, Late Show,” get hip to Dinah’s brand of free-talkin’ jive on “My Man’s an Undertaker,” arm-wrestle her inner Patsy Cline on “Blue Memories,” hint at the worldly yet naïve romanticism of Nat “King” Cole on “Where Can I Go Without You” and burrow to your heart’s core with a wistfully wise “Darn That Dream.” Nine lives. All purring along at full tilt.