Whitney Shay – A Woman Rules The World
Little Village Foundation – 2018
10 tracks; 37 minutes
San Diego’s Whitney Shay was a new name to this reviewer but I will certainly keep an eye open for her future work after hearing this impressive CD. Whitney handles the vocals with the sass and confidence you might expect from the front cover picture and the production by Kid Andersen at his Greaseland studio is excellent. Kid plays guitar, sitar and wurlitzer, Jim Pugh is on keys, Lisa Leuschner Andersen on backing vocals, Kedar Roy on bass and Alex Pettersen on drums. ‘Sax’ Gordon Beadle appears on most of the album with John Halblieb’s trumpet alongside him and guests Aki Kumar (harp), Igor Prado (guitar/vocal)and Derrick ‘D’Mar’ Martin (percussion) appear on one track each. Whitney and writing partner Adam J Eros contribute four originals which combine with six well-chosen covers.
The horns give opener “Ain’t No Weak Woman” a real impetus as Whitney tells us that one mistake does not indicate general weakness. Lincoln Chase’s “Blues Down Home” was a success for Dinah Washington and Whitney sings it really well with a hint of grit in her vocals and the horns again to the fore, Aki Kumar adding some harp and Sax Gordon playing a great solo. Two originals follow, each showing a different side to Whitney’s talent: “Don’t You Fool Me No More” is a shuffle with a powerful sax solo set against rolling piano as Whitney again shows the power of her vocals without resorting to screaming, as some female singers do; “Love’s Creeping Up On You” is a soul tune with Whitney duetting with Brazilian guitarist and singer Igor Prado and is definitely a standout track. Denise LaSalle’s song gives the CD its title, a slow-burning blues with a message. Whitney’s vocal is excellent and the backing vocals add depth as Kid plays some subtle guitar. One wonders if the song may have been intended as a response to James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s World” as it has some similarities to that well-known tune.
Whitney comes in with a bang on “Freedom Blues”, credited to Esquerita and to Little Richard. The flamboyant Esquerita was certainly an influence on the young Mr Penniman and this dramatic cover finds Whitney whooping and hollering over some deep baritone sax and sitar. Rather different to the female empowerment message of several of these songs (covers and originals) “Get It When I Want It” is raunchy and suggestive. Written by George Jackson and Raymond Moore for Candi Staton it is another great track although the sensitive may blush at some of the lyrics! Bubbling baritone sax and tinkling piano underpin a genuinely sexy vocal.
“Check Me Out” is a Jimmy McCracklin song once recorded by Little Denise, a fast-paced tune with rocking sax. The last original “Empty Hand” sounds like a lost soul classic with the whole band on great form, Kid’s guitar coming from one side of the mix, Jim’s piano from the other before the horns come in behind another outstanding Whitney vocal, Sax Gordon taking the main solo honours. To close the album Whitney returns to Little Richard for an exhilarating take on his 1967 obscurity “Get Down With It”, best known in the UK as a Northern Soul favourite and the source for Slade’s first big hit. It is hard to believe that you can generate this level of frenetic excitement in a studio but it’s a fantastic four minutes as the band and Whitney give absolutely everything. As a footnote Slade had to reissue their single when the original writer, Bobby Marchan, threatened to sue, as he had recorded it first and Little Richard then covered it but claimed it as his song, so Whitney and LVF might need to watch their backs! Whatever the writing credits it is a superb finale to an excellent album and is, one suspects, a set closer when Whitney plays live.
Strong vocals, great band, good originals and well-chosen covers make for a solid album which you will return to often. Recommended!