it was me
IT WAS ME
Daring Records DR 3022
52nd Street Jazz
IT WAS ME
Donna Byrne is a Boston-based singer who has been working for at least two decades, but only has a few recordings to her name. When I reviewed her previous recording, Let's Face the Music and Dance (Stash) I placed her in the lineage of Lee Wiley, Peggy Lee, and Barbara Lea. On this session, however, I'm most reminded of another singer - Anita O'Day.
Byrne is an assertive singer. She doesn't coo and croon her way through a song, she jumps right in and makes it her own. It's You or No One and Lullaby of the Leaves are prime examples of this approach here. Another affinity she shares with Anita is a no-nonsense approach to a ballad. She displays an ability to speak to the emotional core of a lyric without resorting to vocal hair-tearing and histrionics, as on Sometime Ago and the title cut.
Other parallels to O'Day appear when she sings an exciting scat chorus on Lady Be Good. Byrne can also do good things with a novelty tune, like Three Bears.
Byrne has surrounded herself with some fine players. Ken Peplowski's reed work is worthy of special mention, as is Bill Cunliffe's on the piano. This is a satisfying set from an accomplished singer I'd like to hear more from.
Rating: 3 1/2 stars
All Music Guide
IT WAS ME
In 1995 Donna Byrne was described by Tony Bennett as one of the "best young jazz singers in the country." More often that not, these complements are little more than throw always done as a courtesy. But Byrne's latest album reveals she deserves that complement and more. Teamed with outstanding instrumentalists, they perform a program of a couple of jazz standards, nods to Stevie Wonder and the Beatles, but mostly classic entries from the Great American Songbook.
Irrespective of the source of the song, Byrne brings to each of them a freshness and style that's a joy to listen to and, for a musician, a pleasure to share the performance with her. Byrne is blessed with perfect pitch from which she never waivers no matter what she's singing. Her sensitivity to the picture lyrics are conveying and her impeccable phrasing coupled with bass player (and Byrne's husband) Marshall Wood's arrangements that accent the most favorable features of her vocal qualities, help make the album an auspicious event.
How all of this comes together is nowhere better illustrated than with the medley of When Your Lover has Gone and Lover, Come Back to Me - an album highlight. On the former, the trumpet of the venerable Herb Pomeroy embroiders pretty musical figures behind Byrne's poignant rendition of the first half of the medley. Then Artie Cabral's high powered drumming leads the segue into the second part of the medley as Ken Peplowski's tenor barges upon the scene behind Byrne's exciting swinging. Peplowski picks up the solo cudgels engaging in an extended conversation with Gray Sargent's guitar as Byrne follows on with a moody chorus of the first half of the medley. The result is more than six minutes of an excellent performance of two warhorses with new saddles thrown over them.
The other medley on the album shares the highlight award. On the first half of the pair of songs, Byrne's wordless vocalizing and Peplowski's sax replicate tenor sax player Lucky Thompson's authoritative 1956 recording of Oscar Pettiford's Tricrotis, transforming it into a jazz sonata for vocal scat and tenor sax. Byrne follows by sliding into a medium tempo Exactly Like You. The remaining tracks are done with equal enthusiasm and proficiency making the listener not only pleased with this album, but looking forward in anticipation of her next release.