don't dream of anybody but me

Donna Byrne
Ol' Socks 8753

July 2001
Alan Bargebuhr


Donna Byrne offers a varied program of ballads and swingers and is convincingly transcendent with all she touches, largely because she's in such complete command of her vocal instrument that she can concentrate on ancillary issues, such s dramatic interpretation, phrasing, and the detailing of individual notes.

She's served rhythmically by the same organic trio that helped make here previous CD [Byrnin'] a winner, but this time there's additional coloration available in the presence of Mike Monaghan's reeds, Kenny Wenzel's brass, and Mike Turk's harmonica (Don't Mean) and blues harp (On My Own). And perhaps, most significantly, there is that titan of mainstream piano, Dave McKenna, sliding onto the piano bench at some very tasty junctures. McKenna is the sole accompanist on what turns out to be a masterful version of Melancholy Baby. You think you're tired of that crusty old chestnut? Listen to Byrne and McKenna and think again. Both pianists work on Sentimental, On My Own, and the ballad medley right before the end, and in each instance they're easy to tell apart because ray is electric piano, while McKenna, not surprisingly, is thoroughly acoustic.

Another of the album's high spots comes when Tim Ray, this time on acoustic piano, is Byrne's sole accompanist on the Rodgers & Hart paean to loss, He Was Too Good. It's a rhapsodically beautiful track. The Title track, Don't Dream, was originally in the Basie book as Neal Hefti's L'il Darlin', while Lonely People is a Bill Evan line, a fact of which pianist Ray is apparently well aware. Two songs are drawn from what you might consider the Lee Wiley songbook - Street and East, the latter of which is make all the more groovy by Monaghan's and Wenzel's straight ahead tenor and flugelhorn statements.

When you see the disc in the bin at your local Jazz emporium, you won't see the last two tracks listed on the jewel box. These are "hidden" or "bonus" tracks, the point of which escapes me, but not so the music. The juxtaposing of Cottage and House, songs written some 35 years and worlds apart, by Willard Robison & Larry Coney and Burt Bachrach & Hal David respectively, is almost too sublime, especially when you consider the way "climb the stairs/and turn the key" (from House) connects to "the key's in the mailbox (from Cottage).

Finally, The Song Is, an appropriately bright swinger, with some blazing Monaghan tenor out of Zoot, brings the session's high orbit to a successful splash down. And, did I mention, the lady scats (Don't Mean) too?

All About Jazz
Dave Nathan
April 2001


A true gem of a singer, Donna Byrne's latest is a 14-track journey through the pages of the Great American Songbook, and along the way she brilliantly captures the essence of each of these chestnuts. But Byrne knows how to extend herself far beyond mere recitation of the words. Her delivery is so engaging, so dazzling, so bright that each tune is an entertaining foray into the world of the art of jazz vocal. Not only is she equipped with an extraordinary set of vocal chords, excellent and top of the line timing and phrasing, she does not let herself get hemmed in by conventional vocal wisdom, letting her imagination provide the direction for the session. Whether it be on a rousing up tempo number like It Don't Mean a Thing (if It Ain't Got That Swing) (where she uncharacteristically indulges in some scatting exchanging ideas with Mike Turk's harmonica), to her poignant delivery of He Was too Good to Me, Byrne applies the right amount of swing, elan, wit or romanticism, whatever is needed to make the performance go.

Another factor in making this CD go, are two sets of outstanding musicians who walk the line between their role as Byrne's sideman and their own special set of musical skills. Jazz piano institution and fellow New Englander Dave McKenna provides the piano backdrop. But while he makes no attempt to overshadow the singer, his years as a top flight jazzman comes clearly through on such tune as My Melancholy Baby. The other pianist on the set, Tim Ray, is also not overshadowed as he helps with a swinging let's have fun with the melody on The Surrey with the Fringe on Top. Erstwhile reedman Mike Monaghan gets plenty of time with his slightly biting tenor on such cuts as East of the Sun (and West of the Moon). Byrne's regular rhythm section, Jim Gwin on drums and husband Marshall Wood on bass, shows that familiarity in no way breeds contempt but rather respect, harmony and mutual admiration.
Liner notes for my copy don't mention two cuts in the play list. Track 13 is a lovely medley of Cottage for Sale /A House Is Not a Home and 14, a race car I Hear Music. But the good news is that this omission results in an unanticipated bonus. This her latest album only solidifies Byrne's position as a major contemporary jazz vocalist.