Cassandra Wilson – Blue Light ‘Til Dawn – Blue Note/ PurePleasure PPAN 81357 – 180gm (2 discs) vinyl (1993) ****½:
(Cassandra Wilson, vocals; Brandon Ross, guitars; Charlie Burnham, violin & mandocello; Kenny Davis, bass; Tony Cedras, accordion; Lance Carter, drums & percussion; Olu Dara, cornet; Kevin Johnson, percussion; Vinx, percussion; Don Byron, clarinet; Bill McClellan, drums & percussion; Jeff Haynes and Cyro Baptista, percussion; Gib Wharton, pedal steel guitar; Lonnie Plaxico, bass; Chris Whitley, National resophonic guitar)
Cassandra Wilson’s debut for Blue Note Records, Blue Light ‘Til Dawn, recorded in 1993, was the breakout recording for Ms. Wilson. She had recorded for Brooklyn’s experimental M-Base collective and was finding her voice as a jazz singer when Blue Light was released. It became a hit and Wilson’s career really took off.
Blue Light was blues-oriented and covered an eclectic range of material ranging from legendary bluesman, Robert Johnson to compositions from Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell, while also paying homage to Ann Peebles’ soul classic, “I Can’t Stand the Rain.”
The British audiophile label Pure Pleasure has given Wilson’s album the royal audiophile LP treatment with re-mastering by Blue Note’s Ron McMaster, done at Capitol Studios. The CD release has been languorously stretched out over two LPs with none of the sides exceeding fifteen minutes.
Right off with the Side A initial track, “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” you immediately hear the improvement in acoustics. Cassandra’s smoky, sultry phrasing matched to the steel string guitar’s tone, and Charlie Burnham’s violin set a mood that grabs your attention and tells you something special is happening here. Wilson’s delivery is impeccable and heartfelt. The soundstage is wide and crystal clear.
Percussion, accordion, and various guitars contribute to the down home Robert Johnson classic, “Come On in My Kitchen.” Hand drums and percussion over the trap set add to the intimate feel. Philly soul gets a different treatment on Thom Bell’s “Children of the Night,” as Brandon Ross’ classical guitar is mixed with three percussionists into a heady mix of voodoo rhythms that Wilson’s vocals dart in and out matching the mood being set. Robert Johnson reappears on “Hellhound On My Trail.” Ross’ steel string guitar is mated with Olu Dara’s cornet, and you can sense the escapee just one step ahead of the hounds hot on his trail. Joni Mitchell’s “Black Crow” has more scene-setting as all six percussionists stir the pot while Don Byron’s clarinet provides fills. Wilson’s sultry voice captivates.
“Sankofa,” with an African theme, is a solo for Wilson, and her vocal mix tracks are sublime. Cyro Baptista’s percussion laden, “Estrellas” is ear candy for fans of drum rhythms. Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey” has additional lyrics from “Angel” by Jimi Hendrix. A personal favorite of mine, Cassandra does Van straight ahead. Her vocal range and warm phrasing is so inviting, and Charlie Burnham’s violin solo is a nice touch.
Side D is closed with the title track, and “I Can’t Stand the Rain.” The former benefits from more percussion and Wilson tells the story of a passionate meeting between lovers. The pedal steel guitar of Gib Wharton and violin of Charlie Burnham contribute to the relaxed and potentially memorable late night meeting. Chris Whitley’s National resophonic guitar is the sole instrument Cassandra uses to interpret the latter soul classic. It is given an acoustic deep South blues reading and you can sense it being played in a juke joint at 2 AM.
If you want the “definitive” version of Blue Night ‘Til Dawn, wait no longer. PurePleasure Records’ double-LP issue is sonic bliss.
[Another testament to the superiority of carefully remastered vinyl. Perhaps the highest-res stereo digital has the capability of being closer to the original recording—whatever it is—but the aural artifacts of the best vinyl remain the most pleasing to most ears…Ed.]
Side A: You Don’t Know What Love Is, Come On in to My Kitchen, Tell Me You’ll Wait for Me
Side B: Children of the Night, Hellhound on My Trail, Black Crow
Side C: Sankofa, Estrellas, Redbone, Tupelo Honey
Side D: Blue Light ‘Til Dawn, I Can’t Stand the Rain
A lesser known jazz pioneer gets a re-mastered vinyl upgrade.