Nancy Wright – Putting Down Roots | Album Review

nancywrightcdNancy Wright – Putting Down Roots

Direct Hit Records DHR 107

12 songs – 54 minutes

San Francisco Bay Area-based Nancy Wright has quietly built up a strong reputation as a saxophone player in a career that’s spanned 30 years, but she breaks new ground as a vocalist and songwriter on Putting Down Roots, her second CD to date, a follow-up to Moanin, a warmly reviewed 2009 all-instrumental release.

A native of Dayton, Ohio, with a big, fat tone, she’s a classically trained musician who fell in love with the sax at age 16, influenced by King Curtis and Junior Walker & the All-Stars as well as jazz greats Illinois Jacquet and Gene Ammons. Revered guitarist Lonnie Mack taught her the ropes before she relocated to California. She’s been a member of the touring bands of Elvin Bishop, Commander Cody, John Lee Hooker and Maria Muldaur, and has been a popular addition in the studio, most notably backing Joe Louis Walker, Mark Hummel, Steve Willis and the Frank Bey-Anthony Paule Band, among many others. Her vocal delivery is warm and relaxed and demonstrates the impeccable, behind-the-beat delivery she displays with her reed work.

Nancy produced Putting Down Roots herself, aided by Kid Andersen, who recorded it at his Greaseland Studios and contributed guitar work on five of the 12 cuts, all of which were written by Wright. All of the musicians here also played with her on Bey and Paule’s Soul For Your Blues CD, which was nominated for two Blues Music Awards and achieved high honors in Downbeat Magazine’s critics’ poll. Joining her are Tony Lufrano (keyboards), Paule (guitar on 11 tracks), Paul Olguin (bass) and Lisa Leuschner Andersen (backing vocals).

Available through all of the major online vendors, the disc kicks off with the R&B flavored love song, “Sweet Soul Satisfaction,” in which she both can’t understand how she got to this place and releases she can’t get enough of her man. Her sax solo carries the lyrics to another, heavenly level. The syncopated instrumental “Funkin’ It Up” follows, with a simple, repeated horn line driving the song forward. “Just Can’t Put A Finger On It” is a slow blues burner in which Nancy is both appreciative of her love, but suspicious that something has changed. The stop time chorus is a grabber.

Another instrumental pleaser, the jazzy “A Serendipity,” leads into the New Orleans-tinged “The Big Queen” with Wright laying down the musical hook thick in the lower registers of the sax. “Hush Little Darlin’” delivers a message of comfort with just the hint of a country feel as Wright urges the listener to come back home, where she’ll wipe away your tears and be with you as the sun shines for you once again. Heart-warming.

“Well I’m Travelin’” is an uptempo shuffle in which Nancy lyrically hits the road after a lover’s left her. The sweet soul instrumental “Grooving Easy” plays atop another syncopated rhythm pattern before Nancy channels Curtis instrumentally on “Lovely Pretender” while delivering lyrics about a woman who appears to have it all going on, but has problems you just can’t see. The love ballad “Seems I Still Love You” is delivered with a decided gospel feel before Wright delivers a tribute to Hooker with “Boogie For JL.” She follows with “Sanctity In Blue,” a slow, soulful blues instrumental, to finish the disc.

This CD proves that Wright has a voice to be heard as a vocalist in addition to her horn play. If you’re old enough to remember King Curtis in his prime, you’ll love this one. And if you’re not, you owe it to yourself to give it a spin. Nancy’s got the sound down pat, but delivers it with one step in the future.

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