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Shelley Neill: The Currency is Heat

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It’s hard to figure what the title of vocalist Shelley Neill’s latest disc, her sixth to date, is meant to convey. The closest to real heat that rises from this collection of jazz-steeped pop covers is an “At Last” that pales in comparison to the blistering version Neill included on 2003’s Envisioning Blue. Equally enigmatic is the unanchored “Soul ’69” that appears inside the CD jacket. Perhaps it refers to 1969, the year Neill moved to Boston and began finding her musical soul.

Better, it seems, to take a quote from bestselling Japanese author Haruki Murakami, also printed inside the jacket, as the album’s thematic impetus. “Music has the power to revive memories, sometimes so intensely that they hurt,” writes Murakami. This is indeed a musical trip down memory lane, extending from the early 1960s to the late ’80s. The readings, ranging from a pair of Patsy Cline torch-burners-“I Fall to Pieces” and “Crazy”-to Janis Joplin’s “Half Moon” and Eric Clapton’s “Old Love,” are unquestionably intense. And there’s a fair amount of hurtin’ going on.

Alongside regular quartet mates Laszlo Gardony (piano), Ron Mahdi (bass) and Yoron Israel (drums), Neill is fascinatingly chameleonic in her interpretations. Shifting from bruised to bluesy to ballsy, she ably captures the emotional heart of each tune, managing to lend gravitas to even such lightweight fare as the Delfonics’ “La La La Means I Love You” and the Drifters’ “Up on the Roof.”

Listen to or download this album at iTunes.

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