Jaki Graham - For Sentimental Reasons
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It's been 14 years since British soul vocalist Jaki Graham released an album. Possessing just the right balance of power and finesse, the song stylist scored transcontinental R&B hits during the '80s with "Heaven Knows," "Set Me Free," and "Breaking Away." But after a few '90s releases which garnered more spins in dance clubs than on Black radio, she largely retreated from the spotlight.
Starting afresh, Graham delves into the American songbook with zeal on For Sentimental Reasons, due out on UK-based Cherry Red Records October 15. She previously hinted at her knack for breathing distinctive new life into a cherished standard on her 1989 cover of Brenda Holloway's "Every Little Bit Hurts." Now, she plunges into a deeper exploration of classic fare spanning Blues, Jazz, and Pop—and composers ranging from George Gershwin and Irving Gordon to Jimmy Scott and Porter Grainger.
Although the compositions on For Sentimental Reasons have been interpreted numerous times by world-renown singers, Graham and her musicians don't fall into the traps such a precedent can set. Instead of overly-sung phrases and commercially-driven arrangements, listeners are coaxed with a musically understated approach that is simultaneously authentic and unique. On the title tune, popularized by Nat "King” Cole, Graham sings softly in lush colors that blend perfectly into the gently sweeping nuances of piano and guitar fills. Meanwhile, she adapts an appealingly girlish charm on a riveting take of "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," made famous by Billie Holiday. Reggae undertones converge with a Soca beat and touches of Bossa Nova as Graham convincingly quips, "You're in love, your heart's fluttering/All day long you only stutter."
Purists will appreciate the breezy swagger of "My Funny Valentine," bolstered by a divine Simon Nixon trombone solo. With steady guitar wah-wah's underscoring the arrangement's calm piano ostinato, Graham delivers a straight-ahead interpretation complemented by her own tasteful and stylish background vocal arrangements. Later on, she takes an unexpected detour with a feisty uptempo reading of Gershwin's "Summertime." Charging organ riffs and striking Fender Rhodes work by album producer Wayne Pollock are embellished with a James Brown-inspired horn arrangement over Andy Marshall's chugging drum performance, resulting in an inviting cross-section of Northern Soul sensibility and church-going energy.
For Sentimental Reasons further surveys timeless fare with new incarnations of Holiday's "Lover Man" and Bessie Smith's "Ain't Nobody's Business." Through and through, the treatments are engaging—both vocally and instrumentally, suggesting that Graham has found a niche to which she's impressively suited. Recommended.
by Justin Kantor