VERONICA SWIFT, This Bitter Earth (Mack Avenue): 3
The tie that binds these Broadway and pop standards (Gershwin, Rogers & Hammerstein, Van Heusen & Cahn) is relationship — with mercurial lovers, self, society, and Swift’s tasteful combo, notably pianist Emmet Cohen. The crystal-toned jazz stylist has mixed success diluting the sexism embedded in “How Lovely to Be a Woman” (from “Bye Bye Birdie”) and Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)” (the latter benefiting from acoustic guitarist Armand Hirsch’s melancholy accompaniment). An electric treatment of Amanda Palmer’s “Sing” and an inspired reading of the Clyde Otis-composed title track (balancing the stark drama of Dinah Washington’s 1960 recording with the comfort of Gladys Knight’s 2006 update) hopefully signal Swift’s future direction.
DAVID OLNEY & ANANA KAYE, Whispers and Sighs
The Americana community was stunned when Olney died onstage in January 2020 — a sadly fitting end for a revered artist known for his intense performances. This posthumously released collaboration with Eastern European-born songwriter/pianist Anana Kaye and guitarist Irakli Gabriel arrives like a grace note from the grave. Olney’s gravelly tones contrast movingly with his gentle delivery of ballads such as “Behind Your Smile” and “The World We Used to Know,” between tracks sung by Kaye (reminiscent of Jude Johnstone). Cello, violin and saxophone lend dark sweetness to standouts “My Favorite Goodbye,” the beautifully melodic “My Last Dream of You” and “The Great Manzini,” as Olney and Kaye contemplate time, creation, and life truly lived.
SON OF THE VELVET RAT, Solitary Company
(Fluff & Gravy): 3
The ninth album from the Austrian duo — raw-voiced poet Georg Altziebler and organist wife Heike Binder — was recorded in their new home of Joshua Tree. One can’t help but wonder how much the desert informed their rustic evocations of space, spectral visions and cosmic questioning; there’s a sense of time suspended. Co-producer Gar Robertson’s shimmering guitar warms the seductive melody of “11 & 9,” while the provocative title track is a slow-burning swell of hurdy gurdy, strings and drums (“Green blanket on the queen-bed/ Blood stain on the frame/ Voices coming through the sink/ I thought I heard your name”).
DOM LA NENA, Tempo (Six Degrees): 3½
Brazilian cellist, singer and songwriter Dominique Pinto places her soft vocals front and center for this subtly ingratiating set. Twirling from to waltz (“Valsa”) to tango (“No Tengas Miedo”) and handsomely orchestrated pop (“Quien Podrá Saberlo,” with Julieta Vinegas, and the harmony-dotted “Vejo Passar”), its rhythmic and instrumental variety and light touch are refreshing to the ear and spirit.