12 songs – 51 minutes
English vocalist Suzy Martell has certainly had cause to sing the blues recently. She has suffered from two bouts of cancer and, in February 2013, she lost her father, to whom she was very close. Now, however, having released a country album back in 2002 (Broken Hearts In Nashville), she has released the more blues-influenced Heartbreaks & Outtakes.
The press release accompanying the CD suggests that it is something of a stop-gap release prior to the release of a new album of all-original songs later in 2014. It is also something of a curate’s egg of an album. It isn’t a straight blues album, with strong jazz, country, folk and rock influences also discernable in the musical selections. In addition, six of the songs on the album are live recordings (from a gig in Hartlepool in northern England, judging by Martell’s comments to the audience); the other six are previously unreleased studio tracks. Some parts of the album are very good; others less so.
The six live songs suffer from a muddy production, sounding like something recorded in the 1970s rather than the 21st century. More importantly, a couple of the live songs also suffer from what might be delicately termed as uneven singing, with Martell struggling to hit some of the notes she goes for. Given that she has bravely taken on some well-known, all-time classics, such as “Cry Me A River”, The Faces’ “Stay With Me”, and “I’d Rather Go Blind”, any mistakes are accentuated by comparison with the originals. In a live setting, of course, it can be real crowd-pleaser to throw in a few songs that everyone knows. It works less well on a recording, especially when the cover version is a relatively faithful recreation of the original, because the listener is more likely simply to reach for the original instead. This is especially the case on “I’d Rather Go Blind”, where Martell’s slightly ragged rendition only serves to emphasize the power and beauty of Etta James’ restrained original.
Once the live recordings are out of the way, however, the CD picks up. There are some wonderful moments on the record. Martell’s version of folk singer Mary Gauthier’s “Lucky Stars” is beautifully recorded, played and sung, with some lovely support from the piano player. It is the highlight of the album. The studio version of “Cry Me A River” is a belter, and the only original song on the album, “A Dose Of You”, is also impressive.
Altogether, 19 musicians are listed as appearing on Heartbreaks & Outtakes. Unfortunately, it is not clear who plays on which songs. The focus on this album, however, is very much on Martell. The backing musicians do get a few solos, but this is a release that relies on Martell’s voice to carry it.
She has a powerful, expressive voice with a hint of Rod Stewart’s smokey croak and she can certainly sing the blues. But Heartbreaks & Outtakes would be better served by having more original songs, one or two more upbeat numbers and more sympathetic production. If “A Dose Of You” is any indication, Martell can certainly pen a tune, and this album provides enough evidence to suggest that the promised album of originals will be worth hearing. This CD however is probably not one that will end up on most listeners’ heavy rotation list.