I first heard Rita Coolidge as part of Joe Cocker’s 1970 Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, although I cannot recall whether I saw the film before I bought the album or the other way around. Hired to sing backup, she came out front on “Superstar” and launched a career that continues to this day. In addition to work with Delaney and Bonnie, Eric Clapton, Kris Kristofferson and others, she has had hits on the pop and rock charts including “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher,” “The Way You Do The Things You Do” and “All Time High.”
And So Is Love is her first recording for the Concord label. She applies her considerable vocal talents to a dozen jazz standards and other songs. The clarity of her voice has only improved over the last 35 years and is now complemented by a rich tone perfectly suited to material written by Billy Rose, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, and Les Brown, among others. Boz Scaggs is also represented with “We’re All Alone,” a tune that was a hit for Ms. Coolidge in 1977. It is a pleasure to hear this completely new treatment.
These numbers are variations on the theme conveyed by the CD’s title and are performed as only one who has lived more than a few years could. She is helped in this effort with arrangements by Alan Pasqua and Russell Ferrante, each of them handling six of the tunes. They demonstrate a clear understanding that these songs are as much about the lyrics as anything else. Every word can be heard when Ms. Coolidge sings, but so can the emotion that these songs require. In the longing of “Sentimental Journey,” the resignation and wistfulness of “The Masquerade Is Over” and the bitterness of “Cry Me A River,” she tells convincing stories of the joys and disappointments of life.
While every track is presented well, none is more effective in showcasing Ms. Coolidge’s talents than “Estaté.” She sings this number on top of a subtle bossa nova rhythm. Particularly noteworthy is the degree of vocal control on both the high and low notes, singing the latter at times just above a whisper. She is joined on this track by Herb Alpert whose lyrical trumpet is the perfect complement to her voice.
Mr. Alpert is just one of 15 accomplished musicians that collaborate with Ms. Coolidge on this CD. Led by the arrangers on piano, they are formed into combos that range in size from trio to sextet. They play with remarkable restraint, even on their solos. The effect of the perfect combination of singer, song, arrangement and accompaniment can be stunning. One can only describe the performance of “Don’t Smoke In Bed” as haunting while the minimalist approach to “Don’t Go To Strangers” leaves Ms. Coolidge singing the last note of the song, and the CD, alone.
More than a mere collection of songs, And So Is Love is more properly understood as a cabaret set. All that is missing is the banter between numbers and the clinking of ice cubes in cocktail glasses. When you hear Rita Coolidge sing that final note, you might well find yourself hoping for an encore.