Before it was Rufus with Chaka Khan it was Ask Rufus with Paulette McWilliams. Since then, McWilliams has lent her voice to dozens of national TV ads, toured with the likes of Michael Jackson, Bette Midler, Marvin Gaye and Johnny Mathis and recorded with Quincy Jones. Now she is stepping out as a leader, with invaluable help from Tom Scott, who serves as co-producer and principal arranger and plays sax on eight cuts and synth strings on two others.
Listening to McWilliams, especially on her opening “Sunday in New York,” it’s impossible not to be reminded of Sarah Vaughan: the same deliciously long notes, impeccable phrasing and round, full tone. Hints of Nancy Wilson-esque purity are also strongly evident across these dozen tracks, an eclectic playlist that extends from Willie Dixon to Kool & the Gang.
A sizzling “Don’t Be on the Outside” and vivacious “Live the Life I Love” are offset by a silken “You Fascinate Me So” and a gorgeously tender “Trav’lin’ Light.” Her “Don’t Go to Strangers” rivals the ebony finesse of Etta Jones’ classic reading, and her “Ode to Billie Joe,” featuring some fine guitar work by Robben Ford, captures the correct blend of remorse and resignation. Twice McWilliams pairs with male vocalists: with Bobby Caldwell on a plush “You Go to My Head” and, equally effectively, with Will Dowling on a satin-smooth “Too Hot.”