DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER: ‘Memphis…Yes, I’m Ready’ (OKeh/DDB Records)

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                      Though from the age of three she was raised in Flint, Michigan (where her late mother came from), feted jazz chanteuse Dee Dee Bridgewater was born in Memphis. This new, very personal,  album (her eighteenth) celebrates her ‘Bluff City’ heritage (her father, Matthew Garrett, was a DJ and teacher there) and finds the singer revisiting a cache of Memphis-associated songs that she listened to in her youth. What results is 67-year-old Dee Dee’s most soulful and R&B-oriented musical offering in a long, long time. It’s fitting, perhaps, that it was recorded in Willie Mitchell’s legendary Royal Studios in Memphis with Mitchell’s son, Lawrence (aka ‘Boo’), on board as a co-producer alongside another noted Memphian, saxophonist, Kirk Whalum. Hi Records studio veteran, organist Charles Hodges, is also on hand to provide some authentic Memphis seasoning.

In terms of her material, Dee Dee puts her spin on soul tunes with a deep Memphis connection – like the Staple Singers’ Why (Am I Treated So Bad), Carla Thomas’s ‘B.A.B.Y.’, Otis Redding’s ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ and Ann Peebles’ ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ – alongside rock and roll (Elvis’s ‘Don’t Be Cruel,’ revived as a jazzy shuffle with a funk undertow), rhythm and blues (a mellow but sassy version of Big Mama Thornton’s ‘Hound Dog’), and funkafied blues songs (B.B. King’s ‘The Thrill Is Gone’). All of these are rendered with respect to the originals but add something  unique thanks to inventive arrangements and splendid vocals.

Also thrown into the mix and given a Memphis makeover are Barbara Mason’s Philly classic, ‘Yes, I’m Ready’ (which was recorded at Stax by Carla Thomas a year after Mason’s original), Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong’s classic Motown tune, ‘I Can’t Get Next To You,’  which Al Green covered for Hi Records, and Van McCoy’s dramatic, blues-steeped power ballad, ‘Giving Up.’  The album closes on a sanctified note with a piece of pure gospel – ‘(Take My Hand) Precious Lord,’ complete with rolling churchy piano chords, ethereal organ, and a soulful gospel choir counterpointing Dee Dee’ stirring lead vocals. It concludes this splendid revival of classic material on an uplifting note.  

(CW) 3/5