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Abbey, Aging Gracefully
on October 11, 2007
I've had this c.d. and listened to it for about a month. Had I reviewed it after first listen, I would have rated it 4 stars.
Abbey Lincoln, nee Anna Marie Wooldridge, is 77-years-old and has been singing professionally for a very long time. Although she has recorded more covers than originals over her career, she is a singularly strong songwriter. Her songs go straight to the heart, straight to the core of human emotion. As Kendra Shank demonstrated earlier this year, on her top-notch "Spirit Free", an album of nothing but Abbey Lincoln songs is destined to be a very good album, indeed.
My first reaction was that these songs sounded better when Abbey first recorded them in the '90's, on such seminal albums as "You Gotta Pay the Band" and "The World Is Falling Down." My second reaction was that this c.d. was recorded over 4 dates, in September and November of 2006, and her voice sounds weaker on some cuts (notably "Blue Monk") than on others.
But then, I read an essay about this c.d. and about Mark Murphy's recent (and wonderful) "Love Is What Stays" by David Hajdu in the September 10, 2007 issue of "The New Republic". And because of that essay, I re-listened to this c.d. with "new ears", and changed my opinion.
As Mr. Hajdu points out, the trend amongst elderly jazz singers is to act their age, unlike some aging rock singers, and to encompass the wisdom of their experience in their art while staying true to their genre, also unlike some aging rock singers. I've written about that as well, in reviews of Murphy's aforesaid album, as well as albums by Shirley Horn, Nancy Wilson and Freddie Cole. I like the honest, indigenous approach.
And that's what we have here, and then some. Abbey Lincoln sounds like a shaman, a medicine woman, the wise elder on the tribal council. As the title to one of her songs implies, she teaches you how to listen, just as she has learned how to listen.
What makes this c.d. work is the instrumentation. No piano, bass, drums and sax here. Instead, we have Larry Campbell playing pedal steel, bottleneck, and all other forms of guitar; and we have Gil Goldstein playing accordion. With this instrumentation, Abbey sounds of the country. Any country. She is of the earth. This instrumentation emphasizes the wisdom of her words brilliantly. It even works on "The Music Is the Magic", where Campbell plays a bar-band style electric guitar. (Abbey Lincoln meets "The Fabulous Thunderbirds;" who'da thunkit?!)
If you're like me, do listen to this c.d. more than once. And imagine yourself celebrating life, celebrating the present existence, in all its struggles and glories, while you listen. As the title of the old Paul Bley ablum suggests, become open, to love. And you will agree: absolutely 5 stars. RC