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Marlena Shaw: Lookin’ for Love

After some four decades left out of the spotlight, having bounced from Blue Note to Columbia to Verve to Concord and recorded more than a dozen consistently fine albums, Marlena Shaw is still going strong. Perhaps her failure to capture the sizeable audience she’s so long deserved stems from the fact that she’s always sounded just a tad too similar to Dionne Warwick (though there’s a jazz-savvy hint of Sarah Vaughan in Shaw that the pop-oriented Warwick couldn’t hope to replicate). Still, in the tradition of Dinah Washington, she remains one of the all-time best R&B-influenced jazz singers, as evidenced throughout Lookin’ for Love, her second outing for 441 following the sizzling Live in Tokyo from 2002.

Finding an ideal playmate in pianist David Hazeltine, and garnering first-rate support from drummer Lenny Robinson and bassist Jeff Chambers, Shaw dives into an 11-track set that might better be titled Songs of Experience, drawing on age and seasoning to heighten such reflectively fatalistic ballads as “Here’s to Life,” “Everything Must Change,” “For All We Know,” “Easy Living,” “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and “What a Wonderful World.” In addition, Shaw serves up a rendition of Bill Withers’ “Just the Two of Us” that’s as light and breezy as a sunny autumn Sunday, covers Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” (providing an ideal showcase for Hazeltine’s estimable dexterity) and revisits “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” with a towering rendition that is every bit as stirring as the version that earned her a minor, career-launching hit in 1967. (For proof, check out the pricey but essential Anthology, covering her Blue Note and Columbia years, released on the Soul B label). Best, though, is Shaw’s bluesy reading of Bob Thiele’s ode to guarded optimism, “Hope in a Hopeless World,” shot-through with the sort of street wisdom that only comes of hard-won maturity.

Originally Published