MARLENA SHAW: ‘Who Is This Bitch, Anyway?’ (Blue Note)

  • Home
  • Reviews
  • MARLENA SHAW: ‘Who Is This Bitch, Anyway?’ (Blue Note)

After a two-album stint in the late-’60s at Chess’s Cadet imprint, in 1972 New York chanteuse Marlena Shaw became the first female singer to sign with the legendary American jazz label, Blue Note. She cut five albums for the company that Alfred Lion and Max Margulis founded in New York in 1939, including this one, which is reissued for a second time after originally being released in the States on CD in the early ’90s. It’s arguably Shaw’s best and most consistent album and certainly – evidenced by its perennial popularity in Japan – her most enduring.

The album opens not, as you’d expect, with a song but an atmospheric dialogue sequence – complete with ambient sound effects – where Shaw poses as a woman of the night and Byron Orme (an arranger on the album) acts the part of a down-at-heel punter seeking her attention. It’s hilarious and poignant, too, and then segues into the set’s first actual song, ‘Street Walkin’ Woman,’ a slice of strident jazz-inflected funk. The mood then mellows and a couple of superb, soulful, ballads ‘You Taught Me How To Speak In Love,’ and ‘Davy’ follow, preceding a sensuous take on Robert Flack’s Gene McDaniels’-penned ‘Feel Like Making Love’ (which is wrongly attributed to Elias McDaniel  – aka Bo Diddley – in the CD booklet). Shaw then injects some well-seasoned church cadences into the mix – something she did on several of her subsequent albums – by accompanying herself on piano for the gospel song ‘The Lord Giveth & The Lord Giveth Away.’

The second half of the album never dips in quality, featuring strong material (‘You’ and ‘Loving You Was Like A Party’) plus excellent performances from both Shaw and her top-drawer band, which includes A-list session cats like David T. Walker, Chuck Rainey and Harvey Mason. For more information on the background story to what is a classic album, look out for SJF’s soon-to-be-published interview with Marlena Shaw soon. Remastered for improved sound quality compared with the first reissue and accompanied by insightful liner notes, this album has undoubtedly stood the test of time and remains a musical touchstone in Marlena Shaw’s long career.

(CW) 4/5