on March 26, 2002
"Belly Of The Sun", Cassandra Wilson's tribute to the smoky bogs of the Bayou, is a cognitive heatspell that invokes the legend of Robert Johnson, protest music and 70's Southern California rock in a alltogether new style.
Cassandra Wilson is one of maybe three vocalists that could pull off a project like this. Her ethereal contralto has in the past been used to master complicated jazz classic and pop throwaways, but classics like Blue Lights Til Dawn and New moon Daughter only suggested how imaginitive Ms. Wilson could be in her reinterpretation of other artists materials. The Band's "The Weight" becomes more of a plea than an offer of assistance, and Dylan's "Shelter From The Storm" is an acoustic dream, completely different (fortunately) than the original. Again daring her crowd to rethink pop prejudices, (as she did in covering "Last Train To Clarksville), Ms. Wilson makes Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman" a treasure. It is hard to beleive this is the same song that previously invoked images of rhinestone cowboys.
Again, Cassandra shows marked growth with her original music, and most of the self penned tunes on "Belly" are as worthy as the cover material. "Just Another Parade" is infectious and entertaining, and contributions by India.Arie to this song suggest that Ms. Wilson knows who, among her peers in the industry has legs, not just lungs. "Cooter Brown", another CW original simply smokes.
Many of these tunes sound as though there was a lot of love and laughter in the studio (actually a train station and some old rail cars in Ms. Wilson's native south). It is a tribute to Cassandra that this spirit has been captured in the recording. Light some candles on a rainy evening, put this in the CD player and kick back - and prepare to have your soul stirred, not shaken.
on May 17, 2002
I discovered this by listening to the copy on display in my local store. From the first notes of "The weight" I was seduced by the organic arrangements and when she started to sing with this deep, warm voice, it was sold. This album sounds like a warm summer breeze. It makes you feel like slowly dancing in the sun.
It feels good to find some albums who keep away from electronic devices and stick to real, basic instruments: acoustic guitars, percussion, acoustic bass, piano.
I do not know if it is jazz, blues, or something in between. "Darkness on the delta" sounds piano bar, while songs like "The weight", "Justice", "Only a dream in Rio", "Wichita Lineman", "Show me a love" makes me think about Sade ("Love Deluxe" period). "Waters of March" is clearly jazzy. "You gotta move" is a blues, I can't help clapping my hands in rhythm. One of my favourite is "Just another parade", the acoustic guitar duet with India Arié (a great singer songwriter, check her "Acoustic Soul"). "Shelter from the storm" is folk. The album ends on an upbeat note with the short but nice "Hot Tamales".
I enjoyed this one so much I purchased one of her earlier albums, "New Moon Daughter" since, and I might look for more.
on March 26, 2002
But I should admit right up front to being a major Cassandra Wilson fan (along with Shirley Horn, Patricia Barber and Nnenna Freelon for female vocalists). I loved this disc at first listen. I snuck out at lunch time today to get it fresh off the presses, so to speak. I don't do that for many artists. . . .
I was struck again by Wilson's variety of sounds within a single album. She can take a very simple song and make it seem complicated with great instrumentation, or she can take a very complicated song and strip away all unnecessary aspects to reduce it to its purest form. She does tend to turn towards a more bluesy sound on this CD, as she has shown shades of doing in the past and as is explained in the liner notes. Great songwriters appear again: Antonio Carlos Jobim, Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Fred McDowell, and Wilson herself, among others. This diversity is her trademark and a major asset of her body of work.
Tracks 4 ("Waters of March"), 5 ("You Gotta Move"), 6 ("Only a Dream in Rio"), 9 ("Shelter from the Storm"), & 12 ("Road So Clear") reall jumped out as I listened through the CD this afternoon. I love her old, upright, vintage piano version of "Darkness on the Delta," although I wouldn't want twelve tracks like this. Her take on Robert Johnson's "Hot Tamales" is a great way to close the CD. She opens the disc with a familiar-ish sounding "The Weight," not venturing too far from territory covered on BLUE LIGHT 'TIL DAWN and BLUE MOON DAUGHTER. Classic Jobim on "Waters of March," classic old blues on "You Gotta Move," great alternate take of "Only a Dream in Rio," nice duet with India.Arie on "Just Another Parade," really different take on "Wichita Lineman" (who'd have guessed. . . ?), fun original song with "Drunk as Cooter Brown," and a strong stretch run with "Show Me a Love," the beautifully arranged and instrumented "Road So Clear" (great trumpet work from Olu Dara) and "Hot Tamales" (Jeffrey Haynes plays the "plastic tub").
No incredible surprises. No earth-shattering twists in her progession as an artist. No clunkers. Just another rewarding listen for her fans and an opportunity to meet her for those unfamiliar with her work (are there any still. . . ?). If you are a fan, you'll love this CD. If you are unfamiliar with her work, this is a pretty safe bet if you've read this far. She is very comfortable in this setting, both musically and geographically, and that comfort level is very contagious as one listens. You want to kick off your shoes, lie back in the hammock, and just enjoy the warm afternoon sun. . . . Then my juniors came in for period 8 English class, and it began to lightly snow outside. Oh, well--that's why I buy the CDs. . . .
Just as a side note, I loved the photography on the cover and inside the jacket, great liner notes from Michael Simanga, and great track instrumentation listings inside. No lyrics, though--not a big deal. Great overall package. As usual. . . .
on March 28, 2002
If you're a Cassandra Wilson fan from the M-Base Collective days you won't find your previous expectations met. Her experiments are taking her more into songs than rhythms. But what singer wouldn't want to find out how far her voice can go? Thing is, few do so in recorded form, preferring to stay within their proven genres, afraid to risk alienating audience expectations. Well, if you're hungry for something beyond the franchise approach the music industry is so in love with, here's a step out. No other singer tackles more diverse material than Ms. Wilson without appearing to care what she'll get from it. Three albums ago she blew up Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey" on Blue Light Til Dawn but instead of leaving the listener comfortably there in cover bliss, wrangled his head around a couple jazz tunes that leave no doubt it's not just a pop album you got in your hands. Then, with jazz creds in place, she put out New Moon Daughter, and in a similar I-don't-care-what-anybody-thinks move, made a Monkees song sound like what Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart must surely admit they'd never dared hope it could. At the risk of sounding only like any other dummy who can hear, all there is to say about this one is I wish I was as ready to risk the unusual at my job as she is at hers. Bravo.
on January 14, 2003
From the promise of her excellent contributions on Terence Blanchard's*Let's Get Lost*,the scene was set...what could we expect from Ms Wilson.She had already *Travelled Miles*,where could she go from there...a long and rewarding way,is the answer!
Regardless of what genre this CD falls under,and lets be realistic,Ms Wilson slices through a number of them in expressing herself musically here,this is a standout collection in 2002..or any other year for that matter.She can't be pigeoned -holed,she just entertains and continues to grow as a top notch vocalist.
Conceived in the tradition of the Mississippi blues and supplemented with jazz and R&B influences,then executed in the heat of August in a disused railway station and boxcar,punctuated with that percussive beat and maverick style,relying on that midnight and beyond voice..and given wings by a choice of self penned or covered classics of all styles....Ms Wilson has excelled in producing her most accessible collection to date.
Noted for her experimental and sparse percussive sounds,she has crafted,lovingly, with the help of friends,interpretations of classic songs from classic songwriters,that benefit from some deft production that has made a truely memorable CD.the result is personal and infectious!!
The songs chosen,Dylan,Robertson,Webb,Taylor, were not easy,but an artist of her growing maturity delivered,with warts and all,that turned this catalogue into something memorable.*The Weight*,a classic Robertson song interpreted in the Wilson style..which cannot be catagorized save to say that it is unique and bluesy.Personal favourites,such as Mississippi Fred McDowell's *You Got To Move*,from the delta roots,have you joyfully clapping your hands and singing like its Sunday morning at church..a faithful and substantial rendition.Dylan never sounded like this,as *Shelter From The Storm*,a classic fragment song from the monumental*Blood On The Tracks*,is brought to life and a narrative is brought to life, as delivered by Ms Wilson..a personal favourite of mine,worth the purchase price alone.
Playful jazzy bluesy latin and bosa nova renditions that surely must please all who listen,set tracks such *Drunk As Cooter Brown*,*Hot Tamales*and Only A Dream In Rio*up as highlights.
Ms Wilson drifts from style to style,genre to genre,and yet the songs are tightly delivered.So much so that novices like Norah Jones,who have attempted to encompass *it all*, must blush with envy.Long time friend Rhonda Richmond (who pens *Road So Clear*,and,sings, plays piano and violin on this set)compliments her friend beautifully.The excellence from longtime association is very self-evident.
The inclusion of the India Arie duet,*Just Another Parade*,penned by Ms Wilson continues to highlight her abilities as the standout *Jazz,and yet not Jazz*performer status.
*Wichita Lineman*,although an honest interpretation,does not do the Webb classic justice,but continues to highlight the willingness of the artist to push the boundaries further.This is really a pedantic point,as the overall excellence of this CD cannot be escaped.
It would be amiss of any review not to acknowledge the engine room in any Wilson CD,the drums of Xavyon Jamison,the percusive brilliance of Cyro Bapista,Jeffery Haynes,and the guitar playing of anything stringed by Marvin Sewell.Mark Peterson and Kevin Breit,are all excellent and make that*Wilson sound*.Throw in Robert Johnston India Arie and Rhonda Richmond..and the mix is pure Delta gumbo.
In a year when the scene was swamped by jazz R&B rap and pop divas promising to be the *next big thing* and delivering more of the*same old thing*,in blows the unique and talented Ms Wilson like a Gulf breeze and just knocks them dead.Not jazz but music with feeling..adult and rewarding.5 stars because of the mixture of maverick delights,...will be continually played.So much talent on display,Buy it!!!
on January 22, 2003
I bought this album along with Norah Jones, and definately prefer Cassandra. I was unfamiliar with her work, but heard her on a Sunday morning TV program and was interested in hearing more. I played it one day while working and my husband came in and was so taken by her beautiful renditions of familiar songs that he asked if he could take it to his carpentry workshop. I was amazed. He is pretty much in to a very different type of music. So, now we share it. Worth buying and worth listening to.
on March 26, 2002
If you're a jazz fan, this is great jazz. If you're not, then you'll be delighted to experience the accessibility of this recording. The collaboration of Cassandra's international band of musicians and a sampling of the rich talent of Mississippi is priceless. Wilson breaks the mold of tragic jazz divas. She has managed to avoid the self-destruction that has become stereotypical of women of jazz. Her blues is the natural exploration of life that just begs to be sung about. Whatever you do, don't miss Belly of the Sun.
For her fans, Casandra Wilson can do no wrong: if you love her, you love all of her. But for those of us who enjoy her talents but still listen critically to her mis-steps, what does this CD hold in store?
Well, this is a pretty good record. She's found what sounds like a comfortable, successful niche, with a drier, brighter sounding production that puts her into folk-based context. This seems to be where her strength lies, as her style and manner often sucked the life out of the jazz and blues she's attempted. The Jobim tune is surprisingly effective, and her take on "Shelter from the Storm" is superb. On the other hand, "Wichita Lineman" is almost unlistenable, crushed under the weight of her mannerisms. Most successful has been the further-developing trend of her own material, which has more and more become the high-point of her work; music most appropriate to her own qualities.
on July 18, 2002
I do wish Dee Dee Bridgewater would shut up. She has been going on and on about how "real" jazz singers - the ones whose style she finds similar to her own, isn't that a shock - are being discriminated by the evil record companies who are only interested in best-selling white singers like Diana Krall and how there's no space for the "good" ones anymore...
Give me a break. As of this writing, Belly of the Sun is number 209 in Amazon's sales rank. The reason, by the way, is that Ms. Cassandra Wilson has come up with nothing less than a masterpiece.
You will recognize a few of the songs in this CD, but I'm willing to bet you never thought they could sound like this. Cassandra's ability to find and explore subtelties is astounding. Antônio Carlos Jobim would have been proud, as I am sure James Taylor and Bob Dylan are.
Cassandra's own compositions are fortunately numerous too. Michael Simanga's liner notes get to the point: "boundaries are sometimes pushed, sometimes expanded, sometimes eliminated but always discounted as limitations". Cassandra Wilson is indeed limitless, and keeps making us marvel the pure beauty of her work.
If only Bridgewater would spend some more time listening and a little less envying the excellent Ms. Krall, she might accomplish something. By the way, would somebody make Jane Monheit listen to this record? My guess is that, when she does, she'll stop butchering "Waters of March". We could use a break from that.
on June 9, 2002
Cassandra Wilson's sultry voice was aided only by an old blues pianist by the name of Abie "Boogaloo" Ames. Boog died earlier this year at the age of 83, and he had entertained audiences here in the Delta for many years. This recording was his last. Boog played for wedding receptions, funerals, cocktail parties, etc., and never had a sheet of music in front of him...he just felt it and played it.
While I listened to Miss Wilson's CD in a store, I cried with headphones on my head. I knew Boog very well, and will miss him very much. But, with Miss Wilson's forethought, he'll always be playing, in his own special way, for years to come.