Julie Dexter - Déjà Vu (2019)

Julie Dexter
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Julie Dexter - Déjà Vu

Artists such as Julie Dexter are going to make me shed my cynicism about the “covers” album. That cynicism is actually a defense mechanism. I’m guarding against the letdown. You figure covers albums are kind of low hanging fruit. You put a bunch of Motown or Stax remakes on a record and figure that the Diana Ross or Otis Redding fans will buy it or stream it out of curiosity.

It quickly becomes clear when a singer is mailing it in on a covers album. They might sound as if they don’t know the lyrics or it seems that no thought went into the arrangements. I have to say that some recent projects consisting largely or entirely of cover tunes suffered from none of these problems. I have Lasperanza’s Seeds and Juwett Bostick’s Shades of Blu in mind, but I am also thinking about the subject of this review – Julie Dexter’s Déjà Vu.

Julie Dexter - Déjà Vu

Artists such as Julie Dexter are going to make me shed my cynicism about the “covers” album. That cynicism is actually a defense mechanism. I’m guarding against the letdown. You figure covers albums are kind of low hanging fruit. You put a bunch of Motown or Stax remakes on a record and figure that the Diana Ross or Otis Redding fans will buy it or stream it out of curiosity.

It quickly becomes clear when a singer is mailing it in on a covers album. They might sound as if they don’t know the lyrics or it seems that no thought went into the arrangements. I have to say that some recent projects consisting largely or entirely of cover tunes suffered from none of these problems. I have Lasperanza’s Seeds and Juwett Bostick’s Shades of Blu in mind, but I am also thinking about the subject of this review – Julie Dexter’s Déjà Vu.

The album draws its name from the dictionary definition that this record is taking us someplace that we’ve already been.  The title is also a nod to the record’s title track, which is a remake of Beyonce’s sweat inducing fusion of hip-hop, funk and dance music. Perhaps more than any song on Déjà Vu (which includes Dexter originals), the title track is a cover song in the broadest term. It not only finds Dexter covering artistic territory charted by another performer, but Dexter literally envelops the original – changing the tempo, the musical arrangement and the vocal phrasing. It’s the same song yet 180 degrees different. Dexter’s arrangement takes Beyonce’s raging fire down to a jazz-funk simmer. Yet it’s still hot. This cover is mid-tempo and is propelled by a percolating bass line and some dusky improvisation on the saxophone.

Dexter’s inclusion of Songbook standards “Moonlight in Vermont” and “Skylark” serves as a reminder that the cover song has long been a staple of the music ecosystem. Jazz artists covered songs that were often pop hits or show tunes, introducing them to a new audiences and extending the tune’s life so that the number eventually got picked up by performers in emerging genres like rock and R&B. Groups like The Platters  had a R&B hit with “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” more than 30 years after the song debuted in a Broadway musical.  Dexter places her stamp on both tunes. “Skylark” becomes a dreamy country-infused number that features Dexter’s vocal and an acoustic guitar, while “Moonlight In Vermont” allows Dexter to showcase her jazz vocal chops as she bends and stretches notes and sings behind and. In front of the melody on an arrangement that owes equally to jazz and neo-soul.

Dexter’s vocal prowess is the element that ties Déjà Vu together. She has always been known for a melodic soprano that made her an ideal duet partner from soulful singers such as Anthony David. However, she clearly stands out on her own here, whether on her jazzy remake of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” or shifting from R&B to acoustic soul and reggae on originals “It Ain’t Easy,” “Mankind,” and “Today.” Ultimately, Julie Dexter raises expectations for anyone considering dropping a cover album. Solidly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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