by Constance Tucker
Take a blues chanteuse that has been thrilling audiences for years with an impressive discography, put her with a couple of jazzers and the result is a gritty, rugged, big-voiced belter whose jazz sensibilities shine through in spades. Supported by Paul Langosch on bass and Jay Cooley on keys, this is a truly swinging date that is well worth the shelf space in your prime jazz library.
Born and raised in Richmond, VA, Redmond majored in voice at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and studied classical voice. By night, she performed in various rock and jazz bands on and around the VCU campus. Although the faculty at VCU felt that Redmond had great potential as a classical singer, she decided that a classical career wasn’t for her and opted to concentrate on rock, R&B, and jazz instead. After moving to the Washington, DC area in the early ‘90s, Redmond was hired as a featured vocalist for the soul/funk-oriented band that saxman/flutist Al Williams led in DC and its suburbs. Eventually, the singer left Williams’ employ and formed her own band, which performed a combination of covers and Redmond originals. As a solo artist, Redmond developed an enthusiastic following in the Washington DC area, and along the way, she won quite a few Wammie awards. The Wammies are the local DC equivalent of the Grammies, and in the ‘90s and early 2000s, Redmond won a total of 22 Wammies (including awards for “Best Rock-Pop Vocalist,” “Best Female Jazz Singer,” “Best Roots Rock/Traditional R&B Vocalist,” “Best Urban Contemporary Vocalist,” and “Best Female Blues Vocalist”). Locally, Redmond created enough of a buzz to open for major soul veterans when they passed through DC, including the O’Jays, the Pointer Sisters, Smokey Robinson, Ashford & Simpson, and the Neville Brothers. Eva Cassidy who was an enthusiastic Redmond supporter, (she died of cancer in 1996), can be heard together on WAMA Volume VII DC101 edition. Redmond’s solo albums have included, Prisoner of the Heart, 1997’s Live!, and 2000’s Here I Am, all of which she released on her own Spellbound label. In 2002, Prisoner of the Heart was re-released by the independent Q&W Music Group, and in 2005 Redmond again released Send the Moon also on Spellbound Records. Now in 2013, Compared to What, Self-Released, offers a strong addition to Redmond’s extensive discography.
“Come Rain or Come Shine” opens the proceedings and immediately signals to the listener this will be a soulful reading with a swingin’ tempo reinforcing the lyric, that is given more of a reverent pledge of love vs. the mournful approach that most vocalist take on this well documented cut. Redmond is divine, her voice is incredibly soulful, and immediately strikes the listener to engage. Langosh and Cooley swing hard, laying out a strong canvas for Redmond to paint her bluesy vocal runs atop. Absolutely superb!! “Dance Me to the End of Time” is a remarkable approach; it yearns, and deepens the lyric’s meaning with Redmond’s mournful reading. The lyric on this cut is already an amazing Leonard Cohen original, but with Redmond at the helm, her rendition just may be one of my favorite interpretations to date. “Storm is Coming” a Redmond original, adorns the almost halfway point of the album, though characteristically a contrast in style, it gives the listener an opportunity to peek into some of Redmond’s additional qualities and talents. Redmond is such a delight to hear; she could sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and make me believe it.
“Ain’t That Peculiar” is where Redmond really lets her blues slip show. It is always a treat when someone really can deliver the blues; it should be the marker for a great jazz vocalist, at times you hear so many modern day vocalists who are wonderful technicians, but they have lost the most important element and role of the vocalist, to convince the listener of the lyric and deliver it with meaning. There are no shortcomings here, as Redmond knows how to treat a song and how to do the most important role of a vocalist – sing with conviction, believability and most importantly deep down soul. Thank you Mary Ann, you have answered my daily pulpit preach.
Overall Compared to What, is a stunning offering of varied styles, all based or underpinned in jazz, blues and sprinkles of Americana. Redmond, Langosh and Cooley serve it up with conviction, maturity, and most importantly authenticity. Something the younger generation could take a bit of advice from these veterans. Mastery is not created in nothing less than years on the bandstand, and these folks have the street cred to pull it off, highly recommended.