Dinah Washington – Returning to her roots…

Dinah Washington – Back to the Blues – Parlophone/ PurePleasure PPAN SR 25189 – stereo vinyl (1963/2016) ****:

(Dinah Washington – vocals, Fred Norman – arranger and conductor; backed by largely unknown artists with exception of Eddie Chamblee and Illinois Jacquet on tenor sax, and Billy Butler on guitar. Trumpeter is possibly Joe Newman)

Towards the end of her career, songstress Dinah Washington was panned by some critics for recording weak pop music with overly commercial string backing. Washington’s inimitable voice overcame these limitations but her reputation still suffered.

Recorded a little over a year before her tragic death at age 39, Dinah returned to her blues roots, backed by a sympathetic big band led by Fred Norman, on Back to the Blues. She was clearly back in her element and the strings and background voices do not distract from her presentation. The choice of material is largely traditional.

The boutique audiophile label PurePleasure, out of England, has recently re-released this album on 180 gm vinyl remastered by their ace engineer, Ray Staff. The acoustics are more than adequate for the time period, and the stereo separation brings no complaints. This LP provides a proper finish to Washington’s career as her voice remained strong to the end. She brings a snap and vibrancy to the material with her distinctive high pitched vocals. At her best, she clearly compares to Sarah Vaughan, for gritty take-no-prisoners persona.

“It’s a Mean Old Man’s World” is right up her alley and features a soulful tenor sax solo. The big band takes an upfront posture on “Key to the Highway” and Dinah is matched with a male gospel-like chorus. Billy Butler’s guitar solo highlights “The Blues Ain’t Nothin’ But a Woman Cryin’ for Her Man.”

The use of strings comes on a bit strong on “No Hard Feelings” and takes away from Dinah’s vocals. When Washington belts out the graveyard would be the place my man lies on “Nobody Knows the Way I Feel This Morning,” it is clear that this is a not a woman to mess with.

When she passed away in mid-December 1963, from an unexpected overdose of diet pills with alcohol, the jazz world lost a distinctive voice who was at home singing most any kind of music, but with a clear mastery of jazz and rhythm and blues. Her blues bonafides are on display on this release.


Side A:
The Blues Ain’t Nothing But a Woman Cryin’ for Her Man, Romance in the Dark, You’ve Been a Good Old Wagon, Let Me Be the First to Know, How Long, How Long Blues, Don’t Come Running Back to Me
Side B:
It’s a Mean Old Man’s World, Key to the Highway, If I Never Get to Heaven, Duck Before You Drown, No Hard Feelings, Nobody Know the Way I Feel This Morning

—Jeff Krow