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Dena DeRose: Love’s Holiday

Since I’m a pushover for “pick-yourself-up-dust-yourself-off” tales of plucky perseverance, I was predisposed to admire Dena DeRose. Like the indefatigable Doris Day, who discovered her vocal abilities only after a train accident sidelined her teenage dream to become a professional dancer, the young DeRose never gave a singing career so much as a passing thought. Then, at age 21, a devastating double punch of arthritis and carpal-tunnel syndrome derailed the upstate New York native’s dream of moving to Manhattan to pursue work as a jazz pianist. Four years later, while hanging out in a tiny Binghamton club, a slightly tipsy DeRose accepted her friends’ dare to get up on stage and sing. She’s never looked back. With characteristic intrepidity-and with her damaged right hand well on the way to recovery-she scraped together the cash to produce her first CD, Introducing Dena DeRose, which was soon picked up by Sharp Nine Records. Two additional albums, each better than the last, followed in quick succession. Now, with both her piano and vocal skills at full throttle, she’s back with Love’s Holiday (Sharp Nine), her most polished disc to date. Sticking primarily to the standards she knows and loves, DeRose delivers an intriguingly dark and somber “I Thought About You” driven more by regret than reminiscence, then swings into an animated “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” that’s stylistically akin to Chris Connor at her breezy best. Her unusual treatment of “Close Your Eyes,” perhaps best described as a Kabuki samba, is odd but effective, and her soft, trembling “But Beautiful” provides an ideal setting for trumpeter Brian Lynch’s virtuoso guest spot. DeRose stumbles briefly during the opening moments of “On Green Dolphin Street,” but quickly finds her footing and settles in for five minutes of scat-sweetened boisterousness. For her closing selection, “The Nearness of You,” DeRose vacates the piano bench for Bill Charlap, whose feather-light accompaniment, as cool and inviting as a tranquil oasis, blends perfectly with her silkily anticipatory handling of Ned Washington’s exquisite lyric.

Originally Published