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Catherine Russell: Strictly Romancin’

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Catherine Russell’s fascination with the songs and style of her father, 1920s and ’30s pianist and bandleader Luis Russell, and his contemporaries continues apace throughout this lively examination of love in all its guises. Russell opens with a peppy reading of the Chick Webb/Ella Fitzgerald delight “Under the Spell of the Blues,” then recalls Luis’ long, fruitful partnership with Louis Armstrong with a lilting “I’m in the Mood for Love.” Also from the Russell-Armstrong songbook comes a sweet ‘n’ easy “Everything’s Been Done Before.” Armstrong is saluted with a jaunty ride through Mary Lou Williams’ “Satchel Mouth Baby,” and another of Luis’ illustrious compatriots, Red Allen, gets his due with a loose-limbed “Whatcha Gonna Do When There Ain’t No Swing?”

The retrofitted fun extends to a frisky “Everybody Loves My Baby,” a bouncy “Wake Up and Live” and a cozy rendition of Lil Green’s “Romance in the Dark.” Hoagy Carmichael’s rarely recorded “Ev’ntide” brings out Russell’s inherent Lee Wiley-ness, and the album’s standout swinger, the terrific Ellington-Strayhorn kiss-off “I’m Checkin’ Out Goom-Bye,” is built around a lively call-and-response between Russell and trombonist John Allred.

But for all its skillful backwards-glancing, Strictly Romancin’ impresses most when Russell shakes off the ghosts, exploring the intense heartbreak of Ivory Joe Hunter’s “Don’t Leave Me,” and examining love of a more sacred kind with a towering, testifying treatment of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “He’s All I Need.”

Originally Published