Mary Stallings – Feelin’ Good – HighNote

Mary Stallings – Feelin’ Good – HighNote HCD 7272, 54:00 ****:

(Mary Stallings – vocals; Bruce Barth – piano; Steve Nelson – vibes – tracks 2/3/4/9; Freddie Hendrix – trumpet on track 7; Ray Mantilla – percussion on tracks 7/9; Peter Washington – bass -except track 6; Kenny Washington – drums – except on track 6)

For some singers, longevity can be both a curse and a blessing. It is a blessing that regardless of age, gigs still come your way, recordings can still be produced, and a nice living can be made. It is a curse, that despite a long career in the trade, fame and recognition still have not measured up to your talent. Mary Stallings may fit this conundrum. Her latest release Feelin’ Good is not just a blessing, but a testament to what Ben Ratliff of The New York Times wrote on March 30,2012: “she sounds like someone who knows and likes the precise dimension of her talents”.

As an indication of Mary Stallings’ versatility, the song titles for this session cover the panoply of musical styles from to jazz to blues to pop all of which are done with a charm and introspection showing Stalling’s far-reaching inquisitiveness. Starting with “Close Your Eyes” which has a crisp tempo lead by Bruce Barth’s  piano. Stallings’ shows some swagger in taking the lyrics in soulful mode.  With “Try A Little Tenderness”  Stallings uses the tune’s opening verse to move into “Girl Talk” the Neal Hefti/Bobby Troup song written for the movie Harlow. Her interpretation has a bluesy lilt that works perfectly as Steve Nelson’s supporting vibes are heartfelt and probing.

Stallings suggests she learned much about stage presence and vocal projection from Billy Eckstine and so his wistful ballad “I Want to Talk About You” is given an especially warm treatment. Nelson’s vibes provide a luxurious underpinning to the arrangement. The title track to the album “Feeling Good” (sic) shows Stallings musical understanding as she covers the lyric lagging behind the tempo set by the rhythm section with Barth’s piano setting the pace. Another one of those individuals to which Stallings owes a debt of gratitude is Dizzy Gillespie and so her version of “Night In Tunisia” is done with the percussive coloration of conguero Ray Mantilla and the soaring trumpet of Freddie Hendrix.

Two popular songs close the session. Firstly the Sam Cooke classic “You Send Me” and then “Yesterdays”  composed by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach. On the Cooke tune, Stallings’ reading is concentrated and emotional, with Peter Washington’s bass in deep-throated support. The Kern/Harbach standard was first written for the Broadway musical Roberta in 1933 which brought Bob Hope his first measure of success. Here Stallings is astute in not trying to wring too much pathos from her rendition, yet all the while giving meaning to the lyrics.

Mary Stallings does not dwell on nostalgia, but rather continues to look-forward as a self-assured and sincere singer.

TrackList: Close Your Eyes; Try A Little Tenderness Introducing Girl Talk; Li’l Darling; I Want To Talk About You; Feeling Good; Reflections; Night In Tunisia; Monk’s Dream; Afro Blue; You Send Me; Yesterdays

—Pierre Giroux

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