Marty Elkins is one of my favorite singers. If you know her work, you’ll understand why. If she’s new to you, prepare to be entranced:
For one thing, she swings without calling attention to it. Nothing in her style is written in capital letters; she doesn’t dramatize. But the feeling she brings to each song comes through immediately. Her voice is pleasing in itself and she glides along next to the song, not trying to obliterate it so that we can admire her and her alone. And that voice is not an artifice — a mask she assumes to sing — it comes from her deepest self, whether she is being cheerful or permitting that little cry to come out. I think her approach to the songs on this CD is a beautifully mature one: not the shallow cheer of someone who’s not lived . . . nor the bleakness of the world-weary. I hear in Marty’s voice a kind of realistic optimism, a faith in the universe that also knows melancholy is possible. Gaze at the sky in blissful wonder but look out for that cab while crossing the street.
I know that such art is not easily mastered . . . ask any singer whether it’s simply a matter of memorizing the notes and the words and standing up in front of the microphone — but Marty quietly has something to tell us, and we feel what she feels. Direct subtle transmission!
And she improvises. Her third chorus on any performance is not simply a repetition of the second. She doesn’t obliterate the composer or the lyricist; rather she makes friends with the song and — as if she were a great designer — considers the approach that would show it off most truly.
I shelve my CDs alphabetically — so to the left of ELKINS there is ELDRIDGE, to the right ELLINGTON. Fast company, but neither Roy nor Duke has protested; in fact, were they booking gigs at the moment, Marty would be getting calls. But my ELKINS holdings have been — although choice — small in scope. Two CDs, to be precise: FUSE BLUES (Nagel-Heyer 062) finds her with Herb Pomeroy, Houston Person, Tardo Hammer, Greg Staff, Dennis Irwin, Mark Taylor. (The provocative title is Marty’s own blues which has a great deal to do with the ministrations offered by her electrician.) IN ANOTHER LIFE (Nagel-Heyer 114), a duo-recital for Marty and Dave McKenna, is just gorgeous. Here‘s what I wrote about IN ANOTHER LIFE when it was released — not just about the CD, but about Marty’s beautiful singing.
So it’s delightful news that Marty has released her third CD, WALKIN’ BY THE RIVER (Nagel-Heyer 119), and it is a treat.
Marty isn’t a Diva or someone who demands to be a Star. When I’ve seen her in performance — sitting in or on her own gig — she is on equal, friendly terms with the instrumentalists, never demanding the spotlight. But quietly, subversively, her voice finds a place in our hearts: it is the closest thing to having someone you’re fond of whisper something pleasing in your ear. And it’s not just me, or my ear. Marty has things to tell us about love, about pleasure, about sadness. Many of the songs on this CD are familiar — but they take on new depth and feeling when she sings them. And Marty has a real feeling for the blues, so her offerings seem authentic rather than learned . . . with bluesy turns of phrase that are warm surprises in standard 32-bar songs.
Marty has consistently good musical taste. Her band: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Howard Alden, guitar; Steve Ash, piano; Joel Diamond, Hammond C3, Lee Hudson, string bass; Taro Okamoto, drums. This small group is priceless in itself — intense yet relaxed, with a light-hearted Basie feel on some numbers, a gritty soulful drive on others. But — with all respect to these musicians — I am always happy on a track when the band plays and Ms. Elkins returns for another chorus. She’s their equal in keeping our attention.
Her songs: IF I COULD BE WITH YOU / RUNNIN’ WILD / IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY? / GARBAGE CAN BLUES / WHEN MY SUGAR WALKS DOWN THE STREET / DON’T LET THE SUN CATCH YOU CRYIN’ / THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE / DOWN TO STEAMBOAT TENNESSEE / COMES LOVE / ILL WIND / I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME / BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA / WALKIN’ BY THE RIVER. Song historians will note some nods to Lee Wiley, Una Mae Carlisle, and of course Billie. But this is living music, not a repertory project, thank goodness.
Marty, thank you! Now — let’s have a regular gig for this remarkable singer?
I just found out that the CD will officially be out in September, which is nearly here. You can check out Marty’s website, or find Marty at her regular Thursday-night gig Cenzino Restaurant in Oakland, New Jersey, where she performs with Bob Wylde, guitar, and Mike Richmond, string bass.
May your happiness increase!