Jackie Allen casts an amazing spell with her voice. From the opening lines of the opening track, “Lazy Afternoon”, you are seduced by the soaring yet intimate nature of her singing — wide open, yet full of secrets. There is sensual longing, and a sense of peaceful contentedness with the world that reminds one of the perfect quality of certain late spring or early autumn days, days when one’s appreciation for the beauty and generosity of the universe is colored by the knowledge that such perfection must come to an inevitable end. Indeed, the title and song selection of Allen’s latest recording point toward the melancholy aspect of love. This collection will definitely have listeners contemplating their own lives, even as they marvel at the rare beauty of Allen’s voice and her ability to render these songs in particularly flattering ways.
Pianist Laurence Hobgood — a member of Kurt Elling’s group — is the perfect pianist for Allen, emphasizing the enthusiasm of her interpretations and providing a fresh voicing that attracts the listener’s ear. Anyone who remembers Paul Mauriat’s cheesy pop rendition of the title track will be amazed by the brightness that Hobgood’s piano accompaniment brings to it. Allen underscores the song’s downhearted side as well, with her phrasing and the decision to slow the song down. Allen also reclaims “A Taste of Honey” from the soulless snap of the Herb Alpert instrumental pop version. Again slowing the song down, a formula with which she has had great success (on her last CD, The Men in My Life, she did extremely slow covers of “This Guy’s in Love With You” and “Fly Me to the Moon”), she generates an intense fervor, turning things over to John Moulder for a burning guitar solo before taking the song out in rock ballad mode.
Throughout the CD, the basic accompaniment of piano, drum and bass is supplemented by other colors that give the listener a pleasant series of surprises: Rob Mathes’ Fender Rhodes organ punctuation and Moulder’s slinky guitar solo on “The Performer”, the marimba work of drummer Dane Richardson on “Lazy Afternoon”, and the clarinet solo by Frank Glover on “You Became My Song”.
Allen also demonstrates herself a capable songwriter with two excellent songs. “Go”, the album’s second track, was written by Allen more than a decade ago. She loved the melody but wasn’t happy with the lyrics, which eluded her through several rewrites. In collaboration with friend Oryna Schiffman she finally got it right; the song’s lyrics depict a woman who advises her male friend on reasons to end the relationship he is currently in. As the song progresses, we realize that the singer is motivated by her own feelings for the man to whom she is speaking. The chorus’ yearning, reaching melody fits the song’s subject matter perfectly. “Moon of Deception” turns standard poetic conceits about the moon on their ear. “It’s about the deception that the moon gives us, and the lies suggested by the typical lyrics in countless songs that have been written about moonlight,” explains Allen. “There are things the moonlight might make you believe, but they are rarely true.”
Allen’s voice is a particularly wonderful vehicle for songs about relationships that don’t quite work out as one had hoped, offering a mixture of melancholy self-awareness and world-weary cynicism, yet tinged with a ray of hope that lies buried just beneath the surface. She can also be devastatingly sexy, as on the beat poetry-style raveup “Turn Around”. There are plenty of female jazz and pop singers out there these days, many of them with pretty good voices and a nice way with a tune. But there are very, very few who possess both a superb voice and the maturity to interpret emotionally complex material with the same confidence and beauty as Jackie Allen. She is truly one of the best singers currently working, and is now at — or at least near — the peak of her career. Don’t be the last on the block to find out about this extraordinary talent.