Dee Dee Bridgewater – Memphis… Yes, I’m Ready
(DDB Records/Sony Masterworks Okeh, CD review by Mark McKergow)
Three-time Grammy Award winning jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater returns to the place of her birth to record a powerful collection of American soul/R&B classics.
Bridgewater was born in Memphis Tennessee (in 1950, though she may not thank me for reminding you) as Denise Eileen Garrett, where her father taught music at Manassas High School. His students included Charles Lloyd, Harold Mabern and Booker Little, so we should perhaps have been prepared for the appearance of his daughter as a long-term star singer and songwriter in the jazz orbit. Having departed Memphis for Michigan when she was three years of age, Bridgewater listened avidly to the sounds emerging from ‘Soulsville’ on her radio. She has now made the opportunity to return to her birthplace for both inspiration and recording.
This CD features 13 solid-gold Memphis soul classics recorded at the famous Royal Studios, home of Hi Records, Willie Mitchell, the Reverend Al Green and many other soul and R&B stars. Much of the repertoire is instantly recognisable, with songs like Hound Dog, Try A Little Tenderness, I Can’t Get Next To You and I Can’t Stand The Rain being given the Dee Dee treatment. The band assembled for the sessions offers fine support, with the electric piano of John Stoddart a prominent feature. The album features a strong horn section led by Kirk Whalum on tenor and baritone saxophones, and the predominant sound is low-down, bassy and utterly solid.
When we’ve heard so many versions of songs like Try A Little Tenderness, it’s interesting to see what an artist can bring to make the performance their own. In this case Bridgewater resists the temptation to up the tempos to raise the excitement levels. On the contrary, if anything she dials down the pace in favour of giving herself space for the vocal performance which is rich with inflection and intensity. The musical feel is measured with the instrumentalists also taking some of the space to put in performances of controlled finesse. A personal favourite is B.A.B.Y., a hit in the 1960s for Carla Thomas and again in the 1970s for Rachel Sweet, where the band find their way into double tempo by the end of the song, giving a delightful bounce to the proceedings.
Available on vinyl as well as CD the packaging makes much of the vintage connections for the music, with Okeh Records branding to the fore. This polished CD would make an excellent Christmas present solution for the non-jazzing Auntie who will expect you to listen to it with her over the holiday period – an hour neither of you will regret or want back.