ArtisteXclusive Records – 2016
CD1: 9 tracks; 41 minutes
CD2: 7 tracks; 26 minutes
CD3: 7 tracks; 29 minutes
Eclecticism is not a word always linked to Ana Popovic who is generally seen as a blues-rock figure but this set shows a far wider range with each of the albums aimed at a different mood and feel. To fully express herself Ana travelled to New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville to record with different producers for the three discs, each of which aims at a different mood.
Volume 1 Morning is mainly original material in Rn’B mood with plenty of horns. Recorded in New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville and Orlando, FL with Wayne Riker producing, “Love You Tonight” and “She Was A Doorman” make a strong opening pair with great horn arrangements and some tough soloing from Ana. The funky “Show How Strong You Are” is clearly from NO with George Porter on bass and Ivan Neville on keys, a strong hook chorus and Ana working up a head of steam in her solo. Mandrill’s funk classic “Fencewalk” features a Santana-esque solo while the horns build up the intensity before Ivan’s electric piano and Derwin Perkins’ wah-wah rhythm guitar provide solid accompaniment to Ana’s fine vocal on the gentle “Train”, to which Joe Bonamassa adds a dramatic closing solo. “If Tomorrow Was Today” is a catchy number with plenty of wah-wah and slide from Ana and “Long Road Down” returns to the funky side of things. Ana’s version of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’s “Hook Me Up” is less smooth than Curtis Salgado’s recent cover with some wild lap-steel from Robert Randolph that did nothing for this reviewer. The disc closes with “Too Late” where the latin rhythms fit well with Ana’s lead work.
Volume 2 Mid-Day is probably the disc that is most typical of Ana’s usual blues-rock style. It is also the most diverse disc in terms of recording location and producers, with one cut from the New Orleans Wayne Riker sessions, two recorded with Cody Dickinson near Memphis and the rest with Tom Hambridge in Nashville. The NO track “Crying For Me” has plenty of slide from Ana, as does the fast-paced boogie instrumental “Who’s Yo Mama?” which acts as a showcase for Ana’s guitar playing. That is one of five Nashville tracks, one of which is “You Got The Love”, originally recorded by Rufus and Chaka Khan. It’s only a trio playing but with heavy bass and drums from Tommy Sims and Edward Cleveland behind her Ana unleashes a torrent of licks on a heavy rock version. Duelling guitars are a feature of “Woman To Love” but the credits indicate that Ana is the only guitarist here so it must be double-tracking! Ana returns to quieter mode on the moody blues of “Johnnie Ray”, a tale of missed opportunity as JR now has “a wife and child; now I’m back but just too late”, her vocal suiting the song well and her restrained guitar playing bringing the right touch of emotion to suit the song, a highlight of Disc 2. The two Cody Dickinson tracks include Curtis Mayfield’s “Let’s Do It Again” which has rap vocals from Al Kapone which contrast well with Ana’s sexy vocal and “Wasted” a short original from Ana and husband Mark Van Meurs which has a latin beat and some exciting guitar.
Volume 3 Midnight is terrific if you like jazzy blues. Whilst Ana is no Ella Fitzgerald her sultry vocals suit this material really well and her version of classics like Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood” and Nat Adderley’s “Old Country” stand up well to inspection with Ana playing some attractively jazzy chords on both. David Pulphus’ warm double bass underpins much of the music here and his intro to Tom Waits’ “New Coat Of Paint” is lovely: it’s a song frequently covered but this version is as good as most with superb horns. Alongside the covers Ana’s “Waiting On You” is wonderful with Kyle Roussel’s piano, producer Delfeayo Marsalis’ trombone and some deft guitar from Ana herself; the song is so good that a second version (subtitled “Double-Time Swing”) appears later on the disc. The last two cuts are both stripped down quartet tunes with Ana’s guitar and vocals, Barry Stephenson’s double bass and Kyle’s piano and the great Bernard Purdie on drums; Ana’s version of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” (recorded by Billie Holiday on Lady In Satin) works brilliantly with Kyle again outstanding on piano.
Yes, this material could have been fitted on to two discs but that would have spoiled the attempt to create three different moods. In any case, Trilogy is being marketed at a price that is equivalent to a double disc, so buyers are not being penalized. For this reviewer the big surprise was the Midnight disc which showed a commendable attempt to play some jazz-inflected blues that worked really well. However, all three discs have some good moments so across the set there is something for most blues fans to enjoy.