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Cassandra Wilson: Glamoured

Cassandra Wilson’s refurbishing of blues, country, R&B and contemporary pop tunes has served her well over the past decade, catapulting her from the margins as an eccentric singer to a mainstream icon. Her influence touches artists as disparate as India.Arie, Norah Jones and Jhelisa Anderson, but at the same time Wilson’s eclectic mojo threatens to become predictable.

Glamoured pretty much offers her signature rootsy, stripped-down percussion-strings aesthetic, subtly offering new sonic colors, thanks to Gregoire Maret’s harmonica. It does however fair better than her last two previous albums, Belly of the Sun and Traveling Miles, in that Wilson’s found a new producer in guitarist Fabrizio Sotti, and she reunites with guitarist and former music director Brandon Ross on a few cuts. There’s also a reunion of sorts with drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, who played on Wilson’s mid-’80s classic Blue Skies and participated in the early M-Base scene. Songs like the refreshingly uptempo “I Want More” and the funky “What Is It” help break the lull of her often-languid musing.

Wilson’s sensuous contra-alto still remains a force to be reckoned with. On songs like her self-penned “Heaven Knows” and “Broken Drum,” her caressing voice can be so bewitching that sometimes the lyrics become secondary. That can be problematic, especially considering how carefully she chooses her material. Glamoured demands undivided attention on headphones; if you listen to it on a sub-par audio system, you might not even recognize that this is Wilson’s most personal-sounding album yet as she examines the institute of marriage through bittersweet lenses.

Affairs of the heart have long served the pillar themes of jazz singers, but rarely today are they explored with the brutal honesty as on Glamoured. Sequenced almost dead center are Wilson’s rueful makeovers of Luther Ingram’s 1972 R&B hit “If Loving You Is Wrong” and Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay.” These renderings offer two-sided views on the moral issue of infidelity. On the former, she takes the position of a lovesick mistress, caught up in a scandalous relationship with a married man that’s too sweet to leave and almost too painful to bear. With the Dylan tune, she assumes a comforting advisor role, perhaps that of the wife in “If Loving You Is Wrong,” suggesting that she should stick by her man. In a cosmopolitan, Sex and the City lifestyle, these concerns may sound minor, but, thanks to the rustic intimacy conjured by Sotti’s lamenting chords and Wilson’s plaintive crooning, the other woman sounds as if she’s wearing the scarlet letter “A” in the smallest one-horse town ever imagined. On “What Is It” she questions whether or not her relationship is on solid ground, hinting suspicion with the pointed verse: “Is she your girl? / Or is she your friend? / Is she the one that brings our story to an end?” Even Sting’s overtly political “Fragile” sounds transformed into a song, dealing with the emotional violence often associated with a collapsing love affair. Wilson spins tales of unrequited love on “Sleight of Time”, on which she yearns for a May-December relationship and effectively plays a jilted lover on an enchanting remake of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy.”

As bruised as Glamoured mostly sounds, Wilson does, however, prevent it from being resoundingly defeating. She sings of the joys of escaping from a rural town on the chugging “On This Train” and even welcomes the exploits of her paramour on Muddy Waters’ washboard-driven “Honey Bee.” But it’s her poignant duet with bassist Reginald Veal on Abbey Lincoln’s liberating “Throw It Away” in which Wilson appears to have found some resolution as she sings the bittersweet lines: “There’s a natural obligation to what we own and claim / Possessing and belonging to / Acknowledging a name / So keep your hand wide open / If you’re in need of love today / ‘Cause you can’t lose that even if you throw it all away.”

So, don’t let the familiar comforts of Wilson’s sound fool you. Underneath all of Glamoured’s calmness lies a storm of personal revelations.

Originally Published