Janice Harrington – 80 Years of International Friendship
Hip & Happy Records
16 songs – 67 minutes
Vocalist Janice Harrington has five children and 35 grand- and great-grandkids and bills herself as “The Great Grand Ma,” but she’s still sassy and classy – and a little bawdy, too, proving that you’re only as old as you feel with this CD, a healthy mix of blues and jazz that celebrates her 80 years on earth and was 37 years in the making.
A former USO performer during the Vietnam War era, when she entertained troops in Southeast Asia, Central America and Europe, Harrington grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, in a home filled with blues and jazz thanks to her mother, Vendora Childs, a former vocalist with the Voices of Victory Choir, a fixture on TV in Los Angeles in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Janice has a long history of work in theater, having appeared in off-Broadway productions in her youth, penning musicals and serving since 2000 as a U.S. State Department cultural ambassador. She’s also appeared on TV’s Days of Our Lives and, most recently, was a finalist on the first season of The Voice Senior Germany, where she’s been based for decades after a brief stay in Norway.
She’s billed as “Germany’s Lady of Gospel,” a title she comes by honestly with several spiritual albums to her credit. But she’s also recorded two CDs with Denmark’s Kenn Landing Blues Band – Double Dynamite and Magic — and a Dinah Washington tribute, Yesterday Today Tomorrow.
But the blues come through loud and strong on this disc, which was captured with six different bands in Norway, Denmark, Austria and Germany between 1982 and January 2022. And all of the material is minty fresh thanks to Matthais Herbst, who remixed and remastered everything at Tonspur Studios near Munich, where Harrington is based.
The original “Old Age,” a driving blues and the freshest cut in the mix, lopes out of the gate to open as Harrington describes her surprise – and bemoans the fact — that, when she awakens, “my body’s so stiff, it feels like a piece of lead.” Guitar work from Z.Z. von Schnerck and Charles de Beaulieu shine throughout. But there’s plenty of fire in her furnace as exemplified by the naughty cover and bluesy advice to other ladies that follows in “Work Your Magic,” which recommends doing whatever necessary to “bring all his lovin’ down.”
Recorded with the Helge Iberg Band in 1985, “Listen to Me” serves up guidance in how to keep your man from straying before “Seven Day a Week Man Blues” – laid down with Lending in 1988 – recommends alternating different guys every night if the one you’ve got isn’t doing you right and “Telephone Blues” serves up a complaint about long-distance loving and calls that won’t go through. The Tor Welo Band is featured on “Wheeler Dealer,” which follows. Built atop a funky R&B bass line and delivered with a rap feel, it features sexually charged vocal interplay between Harrington and American-born Paul Weeden.
The jazzy “Too Soon to Tell” and the funkified “The Hex” precede a cover of Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” which was recorded in Vienna 1994 and teams Janice with the 23-member Rat Big Band. The minor-keyed Latin pleaser “Learn to Live Without You” serves up a change of pace before the heats on again for the funky “Mud in His Face” and the highly danceable “Blues Rocking.”
The guitar-driven “Making Plans” comes across with a Windy City feel as Harrington makes plans with a brand new man before “Norwegians Got Soul” delivers a tip of the hat to her former countrymen. Things quiet for the “Mirror Image,” the search for a kindred spirit, before Janice joins forces with husband/trombonist Werner Gürtler and “gospel son”/pianist Eggo Fuhrmann for an unhurried take on Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” to close.
Classy and traditional – and a winner on all counts!