Few singers respect and reward a song as well as Austin's eclectic leading lady, Toni Price. Her calm, confident, and inherently sensual voice never overpowers her material, but instead seems to seduce the best out of the songs. Midnight Pumpkin
, stylistically diverse yet musically unified by Price's personalized approach, is her most fully realized recording. Every song is different, and every song, whether an uptempo tune like the tough-woman anthem "Who Needs Tears" or the gentle, midnight ballad "Something in the Water," is a success. The songs, ranging from a couple of esoteric jazz tunes from the early 1930s to the percussive, Latin-flavored "Work on It" to J.J. Cale
's "Like You Used To," benefit greatly from superlative musicianship featuring intricate guitar interplay.
Guitar legend James Burton, heard behind everyone from Elvis Presley to Gram Parsons, is a very special guest on several songs, but with Austin aces like Derek O'Brien, who coproduced with Price, the late Champ Hood, and David Grissom involved, there's no shortage of guitar expertise, and it's all put to excellent use. Former Storyville frontman Malford Milligan, a perennial poll winner as Austin's best male vocalist, joins Price for a fine and funky rendition of Joe Tex's "I Want to Do Everything for You" to further diversify the music presented. The sax-powered soul of "Keep This Love Alive," on which John Mills blows up a storm, and the addictive joys of "Measure for Measure," a radio-friendly gem that slots perfectly between the best efforts of Lucinda Williams and Sheryl Crow, are also highlights. Price's Nashville roots show on songs like "Call of My Heart," which conjures a gospel and bluegrass mood, with Burton on dobro, Erik Hokkanen on mandolin, and backup vocals by the Lustre Family. This concert show-stopper, equally effective on disc, segues smoothly into "Darlin'," a simple, acoustic, old-style country tune that brings the Lustre Family's high and lonesome vocal harmony into the spotlight. --Michael Point