Self-Release – 2015
10 tracks; 47 minutes
Ebony Jo-Ann is a thirty year veteran actress and singer but this is her first blues recording, encouraged by Ashford and Simpson for whom she ran a blues evening at their bar in NYC. The album features Jo-Ann’s strong vocals on a range of material including classics by Percy Mayfield and Buddy Johnson and more modern songs from Ashford and Simpson and Syl Johnson. A core band of producer Danny Kean on keys, Mark Bowers on guitar, Phil Bloom on drums and either Tinkr or Larry Ross on bass is supplemented by horn players Forrest Lawson (trombone/trumpet), Gerald Rampersad and Bill Easley (sax) on several tracks and by percussionist Mario Staiano and multi-instrumentalist Guy Davis on two cuts each. Backing vocalists Aziza Miller, Thuli Dumakude, Deborah Johnson, Renee Miller, Phyllis Shell and Jacqueline Sinclair form a choir on one song with Thuli and Aziza also contributing to two further tracks.
Two soul tunes open the album: Ashford and Simpson’s “Just Rain” sets Ebony’s soulful voice against a good horn arrangement and Syl Johnson’s “Is It Because I’m Black” also has fine horns with a funkier background from Tinkr’s bubbling bass and Danny’s shimmering electric piano. There are several very familiar songs here: Ebony sensibly keeps it simple on Percy Mayfield’s “Send Me Someone To Love” in a gentle jazz-tinged duet arrangement with Danny’s piano, Larry’s upright bass and Phil using brushes to further accentuate the late-night feel; “Muddy Water” (Bumble Bee Slim) is played at a fast pace with Bill’s tenor and Mark’s plucked solo both adding a swinging jazz feel; the acoustic version of “Sittin’ On Top Of The World” finds Jo-Ann accompanied just by Guy Davis who plays acoustic, slide, banjo, harp and foot stomp, returning the song to its origins in the Mississippi Sheiks. The title track comes from Buddy Johnson and has a particularly good horn arrangement that sounds like a large band with both players doubling up on alto/tenor saxes and trumpet/trombone.
Whilst Ebony did not write any material here there are a number of songs that seem to come from her musical colleagues: Danny’s tune “Burnin’ World” offers a plea for better cooperation set against a solid tune with some fine guitar leads from Mark and Aziza’s “Glad I Waited For Love” is a great soul ballad with a slight latin feel courtesy of Mario’s percussion, Bill’s alto having an almost other-worldly feel. The gently grooving “Yo Love” was penned by Irene Datcher and finds Danny on piano, rhythm guitar, tambourine and synth bass. Guy Davis brings some subtle harp touches to this one, adding an extra R n’ B dimension. Miles Jaye’s “Nosybody” opens with Jo-Ann’s spoken warning about gossiping, backing vocals and horns adding a gospel feel that fits well with Jo-Ann’s vocals.
This album has elements of blues, soul and jazz, all stirred into a blend that grows on you. Ebony Jo-Ann has a fine voice and is an experienced singer who can adapt to all these styles.