Catherine Russell


This is a surprising CD in many ways. For starters, it presents vocalist Catherine Russell who, at 50, has just recorded her debut album after years of backing up artists as diverse as Madonna, David Bowie, Roseanne Cash and Steely Dan, to name just a few. Then there’s her background: She’s the daughter of famed band leader Luis Russell, whom Louis Armstrong hired to back him up from 1935 to 1943. Another twist is that she’s accompanied by a string band. Russell has a terrifically supple voice that’s very nicely showcased on 15 songs that encompass the breadth of American music. As a jazz singer she caresses the lyrics of such American songbook standards as “Can’t We Be Friends” and “Darn That Dream.” Her own lament, “Blue Memories,” with pedal steel guitar, harkens back to Patsy Cline (the hillbilly Billie Holiday). She gets into the blues on “My Man’s an Undertaker” (à la Dinah Washington) and “Back o’ Town Blues” (a song her dad co-wrote with Armstrong). The biggest surprise is saved for last—a sprightly rendition of the Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie.” This is an impressive “debut” for someone who first recorded 22 years ago.