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Ed Reed: Sings Love Stories

When you spend more than six decades preparing for your recording debut, it seems only fair that the results gleam with polished professionalism. But gleam, which suggests mere surface beauty, is the wrong verb. These 11 exquisite tracks do more than just shine; they resonate from the depths of despair and self-navigated disappointment. A half-century ago, Ed Reed could have been a contender alongside his vocal hero, Nat “King” Cole. Instead, the Cleveland-born Californian, whose prepubescent training in chord changes came from a slightly older neighbor named Charles Mingus, let his taste for heroin trump his love of jazz.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that Reed got clean and built a satisfying career, not in music, but in health care. He sang occasionally, even sitting in with fellow inmate Art Pepper during a 1960s spell in San Quentin. But it wasn’t until last year, just shy of his 78th birthday, that Reed finally got the chance to cut his first disc. Fortunately, time has only enriched Reed’s voice, a hypnotic baritone that suggests Grady Tate via Billy Eckstine, with occasional detours toward the hip world-weariness of Dave Frishberg.

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