Molly Johnson, |
Over the past week nearly everyone who's heard me playing Another Day has wondered aloud why Molly Johnson hasn't received the kind of acclaim that's heaped upon Diana Krall, Nora Jones and Holly Cole. Molly's voice is better, in their opinions, than Diana's or Holly's. Her stylistic range is greater than Nora has shown us. And yet the accolades and the awards have not yet been piled at Molly's doorstep as they have for the others.
The solution to this situation is simple. Go out and pick up Another Day. Molly's sophomore solo effort is a terrific album from the opening jazz/pop groove of the title track and the languid sensuality of "Haunted" to the brilliantly conceived marriage of reggae and Chicago soul on "Ooh Child/Redemption Song." The album is a wonderful mix of covers, including a seductive rendition of "Miss Celie's Blues," and original tracks that showcase the writing/arranging talents of her entire band.
Molly has a knack for surrounding herself with outstanding musicians ever since she burst onto Toronto's Queen Street music scene in the mid-1980s. Her band Alta Moda cooked on the club scene with their funk-meets-new wave style, but their debut album's studio cleanliness failed to capture their intensity and Alta Moda sank into obscurity. Despite a greater degree of critical success Molly's next outing, the rockier combo Infidels, also failed to realize her considerable potential. Molly however is a chameleon and her reinvention as a jazz standards seductress is proving to be considerably more studio-friendly. To be fair, Molly has explored jazz throughout her varied career collaborating with the likes of Stephane Grappelli and packing Toronto clubs.
This time around her band includes multi-instrumentalist Colleen Allen (sax, flute, clarinet, accordion), pianist Andrew Craig, bassist Mike Downes and drummer Mark McLean. This combo was put to the considerable challenge of recording the Another Day album in just eight days under the inspired direction of producer Craig Street.
What I find most impressive given the constricted recording time is the variety of styles which are displayed on Another Day. The title track, particularly the radio remix that closes the U.S. version of this album, is layered with background vocals, guitar, sax, bongos and multiple keyboards. Meanwhile, Molly's moody cover of "Summertime" is stripped down to an ultra-spare arrangement of vocals, acoustic bass and cardboard box. I only wish this team had had another day (or two) to record as the album falls into a bit of a rut toward the end with "Summertime," "Sweet Sublime" and "He's Got My Heart" a bit too similar to one another from a production standpoint.
This small criticism notwithstanding, not just any vocalist could pull off an album as diverse as Another Day. It's a credit to Molly's talent that she can unify a recording that leaps from the kitschy "Puttin' on the Ritz" energy of "Red Cardinal" to the lazy, late-night delivery of "Sleep In Late" with such ease. Molly Johnson is definitely a talent to watch and Another Day is an album to own.