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April 2009

Melissa Morgan
Until I Met You
Telarc

For her debut release, Melissa Morgan wanted a gritty, retro vibe evocative of classic jazz vocal albums of the 1950s and ’60s. She also wanted to pay tribute to such heroines of that era as Nancy Wilson, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan. On both counts she succeeds admirably, thanks not only to her own mellifluous richness but also to a formidable rhythm section led by pianist Gerald Clayton and various assemblages of horns, including trumpeter Christian Scott on three tracks.

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Devin DeHaven

Melissa Morgan

The Wilson-ness of Morgan’s phrasing is impossible to miss, particularly on readings of “Save Your Love for Me” and “A Sleepin’ Bee,” both arranged by Clayton, whose charts are strongly reminiscent of those crafted for Wilson nearly a half-century ago. But Morgan achieves more than mere mimicry or hero worship. Where the breathless Wilson of the early ’60s seemed honey-dipped, the more audacious Morgan is decidedly salty.

It’s a quality that serves the 27-year-old well as she invades Holiday territory for a slinky “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” shimmies into Etta James’ neighborhood for a mutedly bluesy “Cool Cool Daddy,” and ably navigates the deeply bruised heartache of the Johnny Hartman anthem “I Just Stopped By to Say Hello.”

Originally published in April 2009
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