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A slice of New Orleans' soul

Liz McComb - The Spirit of New Orleans
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: May 19, 2008
>Liz McComb

Review by Brad Walseth

Recorded in 2001, in New Orleans, before Hurricane Katrina, with some of the city's finest musicians, Paris-based singer Liz McComb's The Spirit of New Orleans is just now being released here in the U.S., and it is definitely worth the wait. Combining gospel with jazz, the Cleveland-born McComb taps into her experiences singing in the church choir as a little girl with her love of Sarah Vaughn and Nat King Cole. Another primary musical influence is gospel great Mahalia Jackson and on this release, McComb filters all of these influences, along with her European experiences, through the Deep South sounds of the Crescent City.

Some of the musicians appearing on this recording include the tuba virtuoso Kirk Joseph, Byron Johnson shines on organ and piano, as does the fabulous Donald Ramsey on bass, and Bernard Johnson and former Wynton Marsalis band member Herlin Riley are solid providing the backbeat. Brian Murray, Joseph Saulsburry and Ben Singleton add New Orleans-style horns, while Eric Brown and "Charity" provide the choral backing on the opening track, the rollicking "Over My Head." Of special interest, the great pianist, Willie Tee, who died on Sept.11, 2007 graces one track, a stellar version of the Showboat showstopper. "Old Man River" that is one of the true highlights.

McComb covers traditional spiritual numbers like "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," "Strange Things are Happening," "I Know it Was the Blood," and Brother Joe May's "Happy Working for the Lord," and infuses them with more of an R&B and jazz spirit. Meanwhile, her own original numbers like the hard-charging numbers "The Big Mess" and "We Are More," the bluesy "Broken Heart" and the contemporary-sounding "30 Pieces of Silver," show vocalist/pianist/arranger McComb to be a quite talented composer as well. McComb has a wonderful command of her voice, which is lovely without the syrup, and moves smoothly from the silkiness of a chanteuse to the fire and spirit of the evangelical. On "The Big Mess" she even produces throaty utterances that recall Satchmo. "You've Got to Move" features Bruce Barnes' Cajun-style accordion, while the dark blues "Ain't No Grave" digs a 6-foot deep groove that is as irresistible as death itself. A captivating journey to the spirit of the great city of New Orleans, this album is recommended even for those who don't consider themselves fans of the gospel genre per se.

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