In the Middle of It All
Following the 2001 release of her fine I Saw the Sky, Melissa Walker seemed to go quiet. The career-halting silence was, in fact, reflective of a terrifying reality for Walker. An infection resulting from severe allergies ignited vocal-cord paralysis. But the feisty Canadian chanteuse refused to succumb to despair or self-pity, instead devoting her years of recovery to Jazz House Kids, the nonprofit organization she launched a decade ago to bring jazz to public school students.
Fortunately, Walker is now back in action, sounding richer, fuller and an appealing shade or two darker than she did before. Surrounding herself with top-drawer talent—guitarists Keith Ganz and Adam Rogers, bassist Christian McBride, pianist Aaron Goldberg, drummer Clarence Penn and, most sublimely, Gregoire Maret conjuring magic on harmonica—Walker opens with the title track (made famous by Irma Thomas), followed by Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up.” The first eloquently speaks to the troubles that engulfed her; the second points to her unfailing optimism amid all the hardship.
The balance of the album serves up a banquet of varied delights, including an exquisitely crafted pairing of “The Other Woman” and “Forget Me,” a superb exploration of the smoky mysteriousness and lurking thrills of “Invitation” and, most surprising, a breezy reading of “Mr. Bojangles” that strongly suggests Peggy Lee.