Jimmy Scott: I Go Back Home
(Eden River Records. ERR-LP01 . LP Review by Phil Johnson)
Many jazz vocalists command admiration and respect; Jimmy Scott inspired love. The singer, who died in 2014 aged 89, specialised in ballads, favouring tempos so slow that they bordered on the comatose, allowing him all the time in the world to sell the story of the song, communicating shopworn lyrics with an emotional intensity that could reduce audiences – and on occasion himself – to tears.
The back-story is well-known: featured vocalist with Lionel Hampton; friend to Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Ray Charles; bad luck and exploitation in the race records market of rhythm and blues before a late recovery with sponsorship from fans like Doc Pomus, Lou Reed, David Lynch, Frankie Valli and Joe Pesci.
And now comes this very classy final album, subtitled A Story About Hoping and Dreaming’, released as a single CD or double LP on 180gram vinyl. Just check the guests: Joey DeFrancesco, Till Bronner, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Arturo Sandoval, James Moody, Gregoire Maret, Oscar Castro Neves, Kenny Barron, Peter Erskine and more, with strings by the HBR Studio Symphony Orchestra. It’s a joint German/US job, produced by Ralf Kemper with Scott listed as one of three co-producers, and the great Phil Ramone – who like Scott and Moody, has since passed on too – credited with “Mixes produced by…”. Release date is January 27th 2017.
And unlike most smooth jazz with special guests type-efforts, this is a very superior product that one would have to be a very hard-hearted critic to object to. Scott’s voice had been shot for some time, and many of his later recordings presented the pipes he had left less than perfectly, but heard here, on a well-chosen repertoire of favourite songs – Motherless Child, The Nearness of You, Someone to Watch Over Me, Easy Living among them – he sounds wonderful, recorded close to the microphone with absolute clarity, and hitting some very tough notes. At times, on an impossibly sad The Folks Who Live on the Hill featuring a vocal cameo – actually a sublime impersonation of Scott – by Joe Pesci, followed by the master’s halting narration on a closing Poor Butterly, spoken against the sweet-sounding harmonica of Gregoire Maret as the lush strings swirl around them, it’s hard not to get all misty-eyed yourself. Which, of course, is how it needs to be when you’re honouring probably the most gloriously lachrymose singer of the twentieth century.