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Marty Elkins: Walkin’ by the River

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Though she has released two previous albums on Germany’s Nagel Heyer label, including an excellent duo outing with mentor Dave McKenna, vocalist Marty Elkins remains too little known beyond New York City, where she’s been steadily working the club circuit for more than three decades.

Elkins, who honed her craft by studying Ella and Billie but also Louis Jordan, Kay Starr and Bessie Smith, fully exercises her catholic tastes across Walkin’ by the River’s 13 tracks. Tonally, there’s a significant hint of Lee Wiley, whose “Down to Steamboat Tennessee” she covers here. Yet contrary to Wiley’s soigné sophistication, Elkins favors a looser, let-your-hair-down openness à la Starr (who is also nodded to with a Basin Street-kissed “If I Could Be With You” and the bawdy “Garbage Can Blues”). She can fetchingly navigate both a slithery “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” and a honeyed “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street,” and handles ballads-“When Your Lover Has Gone” floated atop a chill bossa beat, a balmy “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Cryin'”-with equal adroitness.

To help drive her retro-fueled sound (shades of Susie Arioli, if more muscular), Elkins surrounds herself with ideally pliant bandmates: guitarist Howard Alden, organist Joel Diamond, bassist Lee Hudson, drummer Taro Okamoto and her foremost allies, trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso and pianist Steve Ash.

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