Singer Erin Bode first came to my attention through a couple of brilliant albums on the equally brilliant, now defunct, MaxJazz label: “Don’t Take Your Time” (2004) and “Over And Over” (2006). The former featured the hard-to-categorize jazz/pop/folk singer on more than a dozen tracks, ranging from fascinating originals (like the title track) to pieces by Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, and Cyndi Lauper, the latter focusing more on originals and yielding to comparisons to Norah Jones or Everything But The Girl. She then recorded two more albums on various labels and released what has become one of my favorite Christmas albums: the beautiful “A Cold December Night”.
Those comparisons fall short of course, as usual, at least with the release of her most recent album called “Here & Now” which for the first time in her career, comes without any piano or keyboard accompaniment (she has worked with pianist Adam Maness on most of her records). Instead, you might want to call the new one a guitar-heavy, stripped-down, bare, raw, and intimate project which combies both standards and contemporary material to maximum effect – sadly though without any of her own songs this time. But the choice of material is superb all the way through. And her angel-like, dreamy, and pervasive voice are always a joy to experience.
And the use of the cello on Jackson Browne‘s “These Days”, the heartbreakingly beautiful opener, is just one of a few little extras which makes this album so special. She then turns to the lighthearted and witty Bob Dorough classic “But For Now” and the equally airy “I Hear Music”, featuring the guitar of Matt Munisteri (who is on most of the tracks) and bassist Viktor Krauss (also on the majority of the tunes here). I think she shines brightest on the more intense pieces she chose here, like the Paul Simon “How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns” (from “One Trick Pony”). It is interesting to hear the more “now” tunes in combination with classics like “Everything Happens To Me”. Does she bring something new to this Chet Baker standard? I think she does: her crystal-clear intonation, ability to project the slightest little change of emotion in her singing by moving a tiny nuance to one corner, and the breezy arrangement by Viktor and Matt all help not getting bored with this often-recorded song.
Erin then puts her own stamp on the Rickie Lee Jones beauty “On Saturday Afternoons in 1963” and with “Orange Crate Art” by Van Dyke Parks, she proves that simplicity and a fundamental understanding of a lyric can work wonders. It seems that both of these songs from two of the most important Americana songwriters were especially written for her.
There is also a haunting version of Irving Berlin‘s “Reaching For The Moon” and a surprisingly fresh and intoxicating Gerry Rafferty tune: I think I must have heard “Whatever’s Written In Your Heart” the last time back in 1978 when his “City To City” LP came out (and it was one of the first albums I bought). A nice trick here to feature Suzanne Cox as backing on harmony vocals. It surely is a wonderful song whose potential I surely didn’t recognize as a 12-year old, but I immediately got hooked again and transported back in time.
Her longtime band member Adam Maness has arranged the dark and dapper “How Deep Is The Ocean?” which has Tara Santiago on cello as her only accompanist, moving the whole project slightly into the chamber music world. We are also treated to Gershwin (“Someone To Watch Over Me”), another classic turned into a simple paean with guitar only. And “Some Other Time”, the Leonard Bernstein/Betty Comden/Adolph Green tune as the album’s closer? I was a bit reluctant at first because there is the definitive version of it by the unsurpassable Irene Kral (recorded with Alan Broadbent in 1974), but she manages to come up with a convincing, decent version. This is an album that is easily qualified for repeat listens.