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Jessica Molaskey: Sitting in Limbo

Among radio’s greatest pleasures is each weekly installment of Radio Deluxe, two hours of great jazz and smart, sassy repartee from John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey, the hippest husband-and-wife team since Louis Prima and Keely Smith. If you’ve longed for a full-length collaboration by Molaskey and Pizzarelli, this is (sorta) it. Yes, it’s Molaskey’s name above the title and her voice (an angelic instrument that melds the relaxed wisdom of Joni Mitchell to the smart sophistication of Ann Hampton Callaway) that dominates all 12 tracks. But Pizzarelli’s fingerprints are everywhere. He produced the disc, plays guitar, co-wrote the album’s two original songs with Molaskey and adds vocal accompaniment on two others. (For good measure, there’s even a bonus Pizzarelli, John’s brother and bandmate Martin, on bass.)

The theme, concocted by Molaskey, is “limbo songs.” In other words, tunes that explore the space between. Aptly ignited by Jimmy Cliff’s title tune, the theme wanders in various directions: the metaphorical waiting for either a storm to begin or the sun to break through in Sting’s “Heavy Cloud, No Rain”; the emptiness separating sadness and euphoria in Billy Joel’s “Summer, Highland Falls”; a parent’s lovingly optimistic, if necessarily vague, promise of a brighter future in “Ooh Child”; the stalled romantic codependence at the heart of “I Want to Be Happy” (served up as a duet with a curiously sandpapery Pizzarelli); the empty longing of “Walkin’ After Midnight” and, the album’s tour de force, a his-and-her blending of Mitchell’s “Circle Game” and Jobim’s “Waters of March,” two of the all-time great musical examinations of life’s sweet unpredictability. Pizzarelli and Molaskey’s songwriting proves as cleverly engaging as their radio patter, particularly on “Knowing You,” a wittily bittersweet ditty about dealing with the cerebral detritus of a relationship after it goes bust. Throughout Limbo, Pizzarelli’s guitar work is exquisite as always, but pianist Larry Goldings shines even brighter, most notably on a honky-tonk treatment of “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” that includes a cunning interpolation of “P.S., I Love You.”

Originally Published