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Linda Ciofalo: Dancing With Johnny

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Linda Ciofalo may have missed the Johnny Mercer centenary by a few months, but her addition to last year’s mini-flood of tribute albums serves as a lovely, inventive coda. As the title suggests, Ciofalo’s overarching goal was to interpret Mercer for your dancing pleasure and, more specifically, to assist you in refining your samba skills. Latin rhythms, ranging from soothing to scorching, invade all 13 tracks, invariably enhancing Mercer’s lyrical intent. Ciofalo’s early training as a big-band vocalist shines through on the sizzling opener, “Tangerine,” and a flame-licked “That Old Black Magic,” both superbly propelled by Brian Lynch’s trumpet.

As effective as Ciofalo is on the swinging numbers, her sound, with its enticing hint of Boz Scaggs-esque nasality, is most appealing in simpler settings. Atop percussionist Little Johnny Rivero’s bongos, she achieves precisely the right tone of conversational intimacy on “P.S. I Love You,” perfectly captures the Lynch-enfolded mistiness of “Early Autumn,” shimmers through the slithery slyness of “Talk to Me Baby” and, amid gentle waves from Paul Meyers’ nylon-string guitar, bathes in the dreamy reflection of “Moon River.” Most poignant is Ciofalo’s “One for My Baby,” neither sorrowful nor self-pitying yet brilliantly manifested in the soul-deep heartache that only a sympathetic bartender and a few too many can allay.

Originally Published