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June 2008

Joanie Pallatto
It’s Not Easy
Southport

The album’s title seems to speak for itself for, as one-stop-shopping jazz entrepreneurs go, it’s hard to match the manifold talents, or simply the sheer energy, of Ohio-born, Chicago-based Joanie Pallatto (whose voice you know from dozens of TV and radio jingles and, perhaps, from her tenure as vocalist with the Glenn Miller Orchestra). On this, her twelfth CD as leader, she sings on each of the 10 tracks (and supplies the backing vocals), wrote all of them, crafted the arrangements, plays keyboards, violin, ocarina and thumb piano, served as recording and mixing engineer and even co-owns the record label with her pianist/composer/producer husband, Bradley Parker-Sparrow.

Solid as her vocal and instrumental skills are, there’s an understated earnestness to some of Pallatto’s lyrics that can be a little off-putting. It’s as if she’s trying too hard to always make a big statement, a grand gesture. The title track, for instance, is a lovely, tender examination of life’s sweetest challenges; or, at least, it would be if she didn’t feel compelled to add layer upon layer of look-how-worldly-I-am geographic and musical references. Likewise, the gentle “Until I Touch the Ground” and fiery “24 Years Ago Today” are disappointingly overwrought. Conversely, the ambitious, 10-minute improvisation “Tickle, Tickle” remains too amorphous, too lacking in focus or direction.

When Pallatto does manage to keep the message simple and straightforward, as on the haunting “Lonely Train,” the reggae-driven “Happy Life” and the free-flowing “A Love That Never Dies,” the results are compelling. Oh, a final bit of advice: lose the dog barks. They’re not clever, just cloying.

Originally published in June 2008
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