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Sunny Crownover/Duke Robillard: Introducing Sunny And Her Boys

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I know what the album title says, but it seems that Ms Crownover is really paying homage to the joy girls of the past: Ella Fitzgerald, Maxine Sullivan, Billie Holiday, Ivie Anderson, Helen Humes and Hadda Brooks. With names like that — not to channel, but to emulate — Sunny’s debut couldn’t miss. And with guitarist Duke Robillard as music historian, arranger and driving force behind the project, it simply had to succeed. The result: 14 chestnuts and neglected gems, sung reverently and intimately in a thoroughly acoustic environment. Little wonder there were so many first takes.

Highlights? How can you ask since there were no letdowns. Ms Crownover has a very soothing quality to her voice, good intonation and fine diction, qualities necessary to show the effectiveness of singing straight, ubadorned melody. Case in point: “You’re My Thrill,” which also demonstrates that drums were not necessary for this session. Duke himself proves that by resorting to simple conga drumming. By way of bonus, that track is enhanced for video: it will play on most computer systems. When Sunny turns blue (no, I’m not going there) she proves she can handle the bent tones of that genre. She does it again on “I Got It Bad,” where alto saxophonist Billy Novick reveals how tempted he was to pay unabashed tribute to his personal icon, Johnny Hodges. On “Undecided,” Novick, this time on clarinet, proves why he is such a versatile sideman while Sunny adds an interesting dynamic. She sings Charlie Shavers’ classic line in her usual, serene style, while Robillard and Novick fill gaps and rhythm guitarist Paul Kolesnikow chomp-chomps firmly and bassist Williams walks just as firmly. Her legato melody wafts at half the tempo; the rhythm swing at twice the beat; it works wonderfully. As an arranger that same track provides his most inspired moment: during the out chorus of “Crazy,” he voices alto plus his guitar to play the old line, “Moten Swing,” underneath Crownover’s floating voice. So unexpected, yet the harmonies click.

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