Retta Christie continues to delight.
Some contemporary singers approach their material through an ironic, cool pose. Retta faces her songs directly. Without being sentimental, she conveys their emotional force, letting lyrics and melody pass through her, opening herself to emotions. She doesn’t overact; she doesn’t linger on syllables for “dramatic effect,” but you hear her heart.
But don’t take my word for it — here’s a review by Maxwell Chandler (February 15, 2010) that echoes my sentiments: http://www.jazzpolice.com/content/view/8850/79/.
Retta’s first CD continues to give me much pleasure. Simple rather than fussy, it is a trio — Retta on vocals and discreet brushes-on-snare drum backing; David Evans on tenor and clarinet; the splendid Dave Frishberg on piano. The trio’s approach is easy, relaxed without being sleepy. And they animate a wide variety of material, from Thirties pops and ballads to a few country classics. I was amazed and amused to find myself playing RIDIN’ DOWN THE CANYON as my getting-to-work theme song. Evans is a potent, light-toned player (I thought of Al Cohn) and Frishberg remains my favorite piano accompanist — tender, apt, and humorous. The music I heard reminded me, in equal measure, of the Mel Powell – Bobby Donaldson – Paul Quinichette Vanguard session; the Cohn – Jimmy Rowles duet, with Retta adding to the ambiance rather than intruding.
The second volume of this group’s brave yet casual exploration is just as satisfying, and that’s saying a good deal. Retta’s swinging candor is worth the price of the disc — so that when she sings I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS, I think that she actually does — no fooling, no pretense. She is no amateur, someone who just decided on whim, “Gee, it would be fun to sing!” but she conveys the freshness of someone enthusiastic rather than someone who has studied hard at seeming enthusiastic. I have no particular love for the conventions of “country” music, but I find Retta’s approach to her material charming. I could listen to Evans and Frishberg all day — or until the cows come home, whichever is later.
Retta has a touch of quiet audacity — the courage to approach FOOLIN’ MYSELF and A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT on their own terms, so that the listener never thinks, “Oh, no, not another Little Billie.” I found myself truly listening to the lyrics anew, hearing the song as if I hadn’t had Holiday’s records burned into my consciousness.
This second session is openly a tribute to Retta’s great friend and musical mentor Jim Goodwin, a memorable cornetist, pianist, and life-force. I would urge you to listen closely to her version of OLD FOLKS — a song she recorded specifically as a loving tribute to Goodwin, who died in 2009. If you can listen to it without being moved by its peaceful sadness, by the love in eery turn of phrase, you are made of stern stuff.
Retta also brings back I ONLY WANT A BUDDY, NOT A SWEETHEART (a song I know from the Dick Robertson Decca with Bobby Hackett) and she introduced me to ‘NEATH THE PURPLE ON THE HILLS, which has its own irresistible swaying motion, complete with “Yoo hoo”s at the right place. I am very fond of the two instrumental tracks — ONLY A ROSE and SWEET AND SLOW — which showcase the two Davids, eloquently. Doug Ramsey’s gently erudite liner notes are just right. Like him, I am waiting for Volumes Three and Four and more. Till that day, you should investigate One and Two. Retta’s musical honesty is something I cherish. Visit www.rettachristie.com. for more information.