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Kelley Johnson: Home

Listen to the first few bars of the opening track of Seattle native Kelley Johnson’s latest album, and you’ll swear you’ve discovered a rare Carmen McRae rendition of Abbey Lincoln’s “Should’ve Been.” Immediately, though, Johnson’s own style-distinctly McRae-esque and just as commanding, but seasoned with dashes of Sheila Jordan shadowiness and Lena Horne pluck-shines through.

Working, as always, with her personal and professional partner, the gifted pianist John Hansen (who alternates with the sublime Geoffrey Keezer), Johnson demonstrates her dexterity with a mixed bag of standards, extending from a stunning, languorous ramble through “The Sweetest Sounds” and a dreamy “Moon River” to a lilting “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” (significantly enriched by Jay Thomas’ horn work) and an easy, sun-dappled “Love Walked In.” Cleverly offset by a deeply romantic slice of Johnson-penned poetry, Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s heart-wrenching “Where Do You Start” is delivered with precisely the right sense of numbed pain. The shadowed reflection continues with Ivan Lins’ haunting “Even You and I.”

Elsewhere, Johnson paints a chilling portrait of homelessness with the fade-to-grey title track (featuring her own lyric married to James Knapp’s music), and further displays her lyrical skill with the asymmetrical “For An Hour.” But the album’s creative apex is an ingenious blending of the coziness of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” with the sagacious spaciousness of Lincoln’s “Living Room.”

Originally Published