Though Sheila Jordan’s reputation has never flagged—at 92, she’s long been venerated as a singer’s singer—the general consensus is that her best record is her first, the rare Blue Note vocal album Portrait of Sheila (1963). That stunning debut whets the appetite for Comes Love, a recently unearthed collection of 11 standards recorded in a New York studio more than two years before Portrait. (Jordan has no recollection of the occasion, or even those who accompanied her that June day in 1960, although she was playing Greenwich Village with the likes of Steve Swallow and Herbie Nichols at the time.)
The unfairness of comparing Comes Love to her classic debut is made plain by the lone song they have in common, “When the World Was Young.” The version on Portrait benefits from Barry Galbraith’s exquisite guitar and the depth of Jordan’s fragile restraint, both enhanced by the superior sound at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio. The rendition on Comes Love is more straightforward in pace and delivery and thus less distinctive.
So, dimmer magic, yes, but still unmistakably Sheila Jordan. It’s frankly a thrill to hear her finding her way, and the peaks she reaches here display her precocious sass and self-confidence. The title song finds her chopping and conjoining phrases like a poet organizes stanzas, by turns sardonic, smitten, and simply reveling in the groove. The lone scatted tune is “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” dispatched in 98 giddy seconds. The closing “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” playfully messes with tempo and lands better than the sloppy, less-inspired burner “I’ll Take Romance.”
As for the slower material, one wistfully wants the Sheila Jordan of 30 years down the road purveying “I’m the Girl” or “Ballad of the Sad Young Men,” but her trademark controlled, drawn-out vibrato still bewitches. The transition from meandering to swing on “Sleeping Bee” (long one of her favorites) is superbly executed, and the final two ballads, “These Foolish Things” and “Glad to Be Unhappy,” are imbued with a wisdom well beyond the typical perspective of a 31-year-old. Bottom line: Comes Love is not a curio meant for completists only. It’s the revelation of Sheila Jordan in self-discovery mode.