Strictly Romancin’

The challenge of writing this review is going to be to find a way to say how good it is without gushing. That won’t be easy because this is a winner from first cut to last. Catherine Russell has a voice that just goes to the heart of a lyric, with a sure tone and a lilting sense of rhythm that makes listening to her like riding a wave. And she’s supported here by the kind of jazz players who reminded me of how the word “mellow” got to be applied to music in the first place. If you’re one of those people who think Michael Bubl” is the greatest thing that ever happened to retro jazz standards, listen to Russell cuz this lady could teach the talented Mr. Bubl” a thing or two. Just check out “I’m Checkin’ Out, Goom’bye,” which is as tasty as “touff"e. And when Russell joins with her 86-year-old mother to do a cover of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “He’s All I Need,” she seals the deal with a performance utterly authentic and undeniably down home. She’s ably assisted by her sidemen, guys like Matt Munisteri on guitar and banjo, Mark Shane on piano, Dan Block on alto sax and Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet. Their work on “I’m in the Mood for Love” is definitive. Jazz just doesn’t get any better than this.