Put a talented singer together with a dynamite ensemble, give them a rich set of tunes to work on, and you’re likely to come up with a winning album. If that singer is Jackie Ryan, and that ensemble is led by bassist John Clayton and includes the likes of three-time Grammy nominee Gerald Clayton on piano, not to mention Gilbert Castellanos on trumpet, Rickey Woodard on sax, Graham Dechter on guitar, and Obed Calvaire on drums, you’ve got a sure thing. It’s called Listen Here, and you’d do well to take that title as darn good advice.
The 14 tracks on the album run the gamut from a quietly impassioned rendition of the Gershwin classic “I Loves You Porgy,” backed by a soulfully elegant piano, to a naughtily swinging “How Little We Know (How Little It Matters),” with some nice work from Clayton’s bass. There’s a Spanish ballad lamenting a lover gone in “La Puerta,” backed by Dechter’s subtle guitar. There’s the jazzy “Rip Van Winkle,” a John Mayer original I had never heard before, which gives Castellanos and Calvaire a chance to shine and adds a bravura climax. “No One Ever Tells You” gets a lowdown treatment with some bluesy sax from Woodard. “Accentuate the Positive” is an upbeat number with pianist Clayton shifting to the organ.
The CD includes a 20-page booklet with liner notes by John Ballard, pictures and bios of all the band members, lyrics of a couple of songs, and perhaps most interestingly, Ryan’s notes on each of the songs chosen for the album. Sometimes she tells you about where and how she first heard the song, sometimes what it was that drew her to it. “Any Time, Any Day, Anywhere,” she explains, she found accidently online checking out Nat King Cole recordings. She fell in love with it “for its simplicity,” and they all agreed it was “baby makin'” music. From the piano opening to the first time Ryan opens her mouth and then Woodard takes over with the sax, baby makin’ describes it all. Nothing like an artist to come up with a phrase.
More often than not it is the lyric couched in a romantic melody that attracts Ryan. Johnny Mandel and Paul Webster come up with a song like “A Time For Love,” a song that always moves her. John Clayton’s “Before We Fall In Love” gets some perfect lyrics from her favorite contemporary lyricists, Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Singer Abbey Lincoln’s songs “are pure poetry,” and “Throw It Away” is a song she loved from the first time she heard it. It is no wonder Ryan is drawn to great lyrics, she knows what to do with them. She knows how to tell a story. “Throw It Away” is particularly effective in Clayton’s eloquent arrangement. It is perhaps to be expected that the album ends with the title song with lyrics “that go deep and move you,” arranged in a stripped down duet with the piano—simple but moving.
Jackie Ryan’s work in the past has garnered her a lot of praise and Listen Here is an album that is bound to keep that praise coming.