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Charene Dawn: Dark Angel

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Her passion for jazz ignited by an impromptu session with Sonny Stitt, Charene Dawn has spent most of the past decade earning her musical oats alongside the likes of George Benson, Cyrus Chestnut and Chaka Khan. Now, the Chicago-born chanteuse is stepping out on her own with the multihued Dark Angel. As debut albums go, it’s remarkably mature, suggesting a keenly perceptive intelligence.

Though there’s the faint suggestion of June Christy on several of the album’s nine tracks (particularly noticeable on a bracing interpretation of Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”), Dawn’s full-bodied sound is more strongly evocative of Nancy Wilson’s regality blended with the sass of Nnenna Freelon. Her admirably imaginative selections include a cautiously celebratory rendition of Minnie Riperton’s “Reasons” and a savory “Poetry Man” that’s more robustly sensuous than Phoebe Snow’s fragile original. She delivers a gorgeous “Smile” filled with reflective tenderness, lends an intriguing air of mystery to “All or Nothing At All” and proves herself a potent songwriter with “Here and Now,” a slightly charred salute to romantic spontaneity.

Dawn shines brightest, however, on the title track, written for her by producer Joe Locke. A sumptuous paean to spiritual redemption that sounds like “Black Coffee” filtered through the folksy wisdom of Gordon Lightfoot, it provides Dawn with a stunning opportunity to simultaneously embrace the world-weariness of Billie Holiday and the soft vulnerability of Roberta Flack.