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Dee Alexander: Songs My Mother Loves

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From Mark Murphy’s Rah! to Cécile McLorin Salvant’s WomanChild, there have been plenty of vocal albums over the decades that take your breath away on first spin. Rarely, though, do artists hit two such home runs in a row. Five years ago, Chicago’s Dee Alexander delivered the outstanding Wild Is the Wind. It should have propelled her to Salvant-level fame. But, the vagaries of the music business being what they are, she remained under the radar, so much so that much of this overdue follow-up was financed out of her own pocket.

The results are nearly flawless. It’s hard not to be reminded of another out-of-the-park release from a few years back, Dianne Reeves’ soundtrack to Good Night, and Good Luck. Alexander, working with a stellar assortment of musicians fused from her touring band and her more experimental Evolution Ensemble, perfectly captures that same smoky, mid-’50s vibe.

As the title denotes, the playlist is composed of songs she heard around the house growing up. Clearly her mother had superb taste. Alongside such standards as “Perdido,” “What a Difference a Day Makes” and the Nancy Wilson-associated gem “Guess Who I Saw Today,” there are selections by Billie Holiday, Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, and Junior Mance. All are masterfully rendered, most notably an obliquely haunting “Nature Boy” and an impeccably swung “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise.” Simply put, Songs My Mother Loves is a top contender for this year’s finest vocal release.

Originally Published