JENNIFER HOLIDAY: The Song Is You (Shanachie)

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It’s been a long time – 23 years to be precise – since Jennifer Holiday last released a solo, secular album, but here she ushers in 2014 with a wonderful if quirky new set that has all the hallmarks of her early career landmark recordings. ‘The Song Is You’, Ms Holiday tells us in the sleeve notes, is all about “love and communication”. Without the latter, the former is difficult to achieve and to help her deliver this thesis, she’s chosen what is essentially a set of covers. Amongst the well known songs on offer are ‘The Look Of Love’, ‘At Last’, ‘Love Dance’ and ‘Nobody Does It Better’ and Ms. H. actually manages to make them sound different to the better-known versions. She achieves this not by dreaming up an innovative arrangement; rather, she succeeds through her idiosyncratic delivery. Ultra-mannered (too over the top, some might argue), she takes the familiar material right down to soulsville. Hear this transformation at its best on the version of ‘The Look Of Love’. Jennifer totally inhabits the song in the way that only Church-reared divas can; it’s a remarkable piece of work and might remind you of what 70s singers like Margie Joseph did with familiar songs.

The less familiar material offers countless rewards too. ‘Are You Leaving Me’ would stand out on any soul album. The writer, it seems, is unknown and the song only previously existed in an Aretha Franklin demo. Jennifer makes it sound like a soul classic, turning in a performance that even the Queen of Soul would be proud of. Listen up too to great versions of Narada Michael Walden’s ‘Touch’ and the big, dramatic ballad ‘The One You Used To Be’ which Jennifer wrote for Whitney Houston. The cut is actually dedicated to Whitney and indeed throughout the set, each track bears a dedication…. ‘Love Dance’ to Nancy Wilson, ‘At Last ‘to Etta James, ‘Love Me By Name’ to Barbra Streisand and so on… and though those dedications invite inevitable comparisons, they become totally redundant as Holiday delivers everything in her own very special way – abetted by full orchestral accompaniment; no synths or electronica here. It’s all for real – just like those remarkable vocals. Yes, all the soul and passion of ‘And I’m Telling You’ is still there… a great start for 2014!

(BB) 4/5