Elizabeth Shepherd has the kind of breathy twinkling voice that can be alluringly sexy in one song and kittenishly playful in another, but whichever the choice, it is a voice that she uses to make that song distinctively her own. She is a jazz singer who can shape a lyric with the best of them. Rewind, her fourth studio album, has the singer more often known for her own original compositions, showing off her chops with a dozen tunes mixing some well known standards with some more obscure pieces. If the songs aren’t originals, her interpretations are, original and exciting both.
From the first tune, a stunning take on the sultry standard “Love for Sale” to the Duke Ellington classic “Prelude to a Kiss” which turns up as a duet with Denzal Sinclaire to end the album, she has made these songs her own. Her arrangement of “Feeling Good,” with its music box opening and its emphatic drum rhythms gives the song the “new life” it talks about. It’s as fine a version of this great song as I’ve heard in a while. Even the oft heard “Poinciana” takes on a new life in her hands.
A lesser known song like the Kurt Weill song “Lonely House” echoes with the sighing of the lyric. It is a fascinating example of a singer listening to a lyric and sound echoing sense. Two French tunes Shepherd picked up while growing up in Paris add a swinging international touch. Besides, they are sure to appeal to the Montreal-based singer’s local audience. “Buzzard Song” from Porgy and Bess is an interesting choice with a nice approach. Compare her version with what Miles Davis does with it. Her bluesy take on “Sack of Woe,” with its soulful “stereophonic snaps,” provided by one of her “ultimate loves,” Johan Hultqvist, is sweetly done.
It turns out that the shape of the new album was in good part determined by the other of Shepherd’s “ultimate loves”—her new born daughter, Sanna. As described in her press release, it was during the last leg of the tour supporting her album Heavy Falls the Night, when she learned she was pregnant, that she realized she wouldn’t have time to write enough new material for a new album before the birth of the child, that she decided to record instead an album of standards. Moreover, she thought of the album as a connection between what had always been constant in her life and the great change that was on the way, only to realize that the album’s direction was simply another kind of change.
When the album was done, she says, she realized “that while pregnancy is a time of unprecedented, extreme change, and motherhood an even deeper process of adaptation, the illusion of holding onto something fixed is just that—illusion—because we are never really standing still.” The album, she goes on, “is one more face of change, an act of discovering and embracing yet another aspect of my self—this time of my musical self.” Fans of fine jazz singing can thank Sanna for the discovery.