Bring It Back, the latest album from vocalist Catherine Russell, set for release February 11, is a retro collection of tunes culled from the birth of jazz through the rhythm and blues resurrection, with a nod to the swing era in between. And if there is any singer with the kind of chops to sell this kind of musical variety, Russell is that singer. Not only does she have a voice like rich, aged brandy, not only does she exude the rhythmic joy the music demands, this is music that is in her blood. After all, her mother is the great jazz pioneer Carline Ray, and her father, arranger Luis Russell, was longtime leader of the Louis Armstrong band. With a pedigree like that, how can she miss?
Working with a 10-piece band on most of the 13-track set, she hits each and every tune out of the park. Some of the songs are well known, some have been largely forgotten, but either way, Russell’s readings reinvigorate them. In her hands they breathe with renewed life.
Whether it’s beginning a venerable classic like “The Darktown Strutters’ Ball” with a little-heard verse, or swinging her way though “I’m Sticking with You Baby,” she makes each song her own. Russell does a stripped down version of Fats Waller’s “Strange as It Seems,” giving the band a rest as she duets with the piano. She kills with her low down version of “Aged and Mellow;” as she vamps, “I like my men like I like my whiskey/Aged and mellow.” It is blues at its best, and her take on the better known “After the Lights Go Down Low” is equally effective.
The singer celebrates the swing era with a three-song block: “I’m Shooting High,” “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart,” and “You Got to Swing and Sway.” Close your eyes and you can’t help but picture the songstress in front of the big band. More sentimentally, she also includes a recently rediscovered song by her father, “Lucille,” performed publicly here for the first time. The disc closes with a fine rendition of “I Cover the Waterfront.”
There’s life still in the old music, at least when it’s Catherine Russell singing.