Have you ever picked up a record, looked at the instrument lineup, and thought, "Huh?" This happened to me once at a little record shop in upstate New York. The album was in the jazz section, but the lead instrument was a pedal steel guitar. I almost felt the need to look up into the corners of the room to find the cameras that were surely recording my confused looks. But there were no cameras, and the album was no joke. Sometimes your boundaries can be expanded in unexpected ways.
I had a miniaturized version of that feeling of surprise while listening to the title track from Kristy's My Romance. Covered by countless jazz vocalists, it was a definite left turn to hear the opening chords of the Rodgers and Hart classic being presented with intertwined piano voicings and bits of both slide guitar and dobro. When Kristy's breathy and detailed voice joined in, I knew that I was not dealing with an ordinary jazz vocals album. Sure enough, along with that unusual instrumental selection, this album presents several tunes with very non-tradition choices.
There's a lot to like here. The traditionalist will love Kristy's beautiful voice set against the piano and trumpet on songs like "In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning," "Teach Me Tonight," and "It Never Entered My Mind," though even on the latter Matt Brubeck's cello (yes, that Brubeck) provides a somewhat unusual texture.
Where My Romance sets itself apart from the tradition is on songs like the loving take on The Beatles' "Blackbird," with extended sonics provided by a music box, cello, and dobro. Though it's not possible to surpass the original (and I'm certain that wasn't the intent here), this approach highlights the malleability of so many Lennon/McCartney compositions. "Take A Chance On Love" seems to begin in a traditional fashion, with voice set against piano. But Matt Brubeck's cello adds an earthy element, reminding my ears of all of those great Django/Grappelli excursions. The introduction to the bluesy "You Don't Know Me" accents the piano with yet another subtle element: artificial guitar harmonics. Or is it dobro? No matter, as a naughty little guitar/piano solo section does manage to turn things blue. Really great stuff.
The most surprising song on My Romance arrives with "A Sleepin' Bee." If you had not read the biographical information on Kristy, you probably wouldn't be aware of her work with the acapella group Wibijazzin. Along with founder Kevin Fox, this track (written by Truman Capote and Harold Arlen? Who knew?!) pays tribute to her love of the genre. Plus, it's a snazzy load of fun.
My Romance proves to my ears that, no matter how played out you might think a region of music is, there's somebody out there with bigger ears than your own.