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Julie Kelly: Happy to Be

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Listening to Julie Kelly, it’s hard not to be reminded of her fellow West Coaster Rebecca Kilgore. Kelly, whose recording career enters its third decade with Happy to Be, her eighth release, shares Kilgore’s crystal-clear phrasing, her effortless way with a lyric and her ability to shape richly imagined playlists, intriguingly disparate sets that draw upon profound musical knowledge.

In tandem with 11 of L.A.’s foremost players, anchored by Bill Cunliffe, alternating between piano and synthesizer, guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Tom Warrington and drummer Joe LaBarbera, Kelly opens with Phoebe Snow’s dreamy “Harpo’s Blues,” jumps to the boppish bounce of the title track, a clever salute to Bobby McFerrin co-written by Bill Peterson and Inga Swearingen, slows again for Dave Frishberg’s gentle “Our Love Rolls On,” then navigates a freewheeling sashay through Bob Dorough’s lighthearted “You’re the Dangerous Type.”

Digging deeper, she unearths the gorgeously tender Marilyn and Alan Bergman rarity “I Have the Feeling I’ve Been Here Before” (co-written with Roger Kellaway), Richard Rodney Bennett’s equally wistful “I Never Went Away” and, from fellow Angeleno Susan Marder, the pensive Joni Mitchell tribute “For Joni.”

No Kelly project would be complete without a nod to Brazil, where she earned some of her earliest training. Her “Corcovado,” performed in Portuguese, is at once breezy and beatific. A bossa beat also informs a winning interpretation of Jim Tomlinson and Kazuo Ishiguro’s “I Wish I Could Go Traveling Again” that partners Kelly with pianist and vocalist John Proulx.

Originally Published