Catherine Russell Gets It

Catherine Russell



Review by Alix Cohen



Once a year or so Catherine Russell and her band return to Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola with a show so reliably authentic one feels as if in another era. The artist performs material from the 20s through 40s (some early 50s) with comfort level and comprehension that make her appearances transporting. Neither attitude nor style evince a false moment.


Russell warms up the room with Louis Jordan’s “Let the Good Times Roll.” Even her evangelical call-outs are musical. The wry “You’re Not the Only Oyster in the Stew” follows:You’re not the only wrinkle in the prune/You’re not the only apple on the tree…she sings with a savoring, sibilant s. (Joe Burke & Harold Spina) Stepping back and forth, fingers snap. There’s that mile wide grin. Hip swinging piano buoys.


George and Ira Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” arrives to thrum-thrum rhythm evident in arrangements by Musical Director Matt Munisteri. Stacatto lyrics are bridged by the occasional elongated word in distinctive hurry-up-and-wait fashion. Russell dances in place, slaps her thigh, yet remains elegant. Piano feels loosey goosey; guitar is brighter, tighter.


“Every Time” (Lillian Lil Green) sashays with a burlesque beat. Russell’s in red hot mama mode. Phrasing moves like molasses. Lyrics arc out and return as if elastic. Sinewy guitar twangs. “Sin” arrives in two syllables. The performer hardly moves, yet emanates sex.


Pumped up jitterbug numbers include “Swing Brother Swing” (Clarence Williams/Walter Bishop/Lewis Raymond) with dexterous bass that curly-cues around melody and a rat-a-tat-tat “I’m An Errand Girl for Rhythm” …Send Me…(Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne) including a drum solo that manages to be cool and symbiotic without tune. Gyration seems organic.


Catherine Russell


Russell sings “Let Me Be the First To Know” (Leroy Kirkland/Pearl Woods/Dinah Washington) as if she really means it, and, in fact, admits to firsthand experience: Don’t tell our friends, baby/Let me be the first to know…When you no longer care…There’s a mute horn wah-wah in her anxious voice. A languorous “I’m Lazy, That’s All” (Pearl Bailey) oozes out with a shrug and raised eyebrow… “People say, you know Cat, you just ain’t good for nothin’,” she improvises, talking to us, making it personal. It’s a rough hewn song manifest by an uber-smooth voice.


The sassy “You’ve Got the Right Key”…but the wrong key hole…an audience favorite, is about as unfussy a good riddance declaration as you can imagine. The woman’s had it. (Clarence Williams/ Eddie Green) “I think they stopped writing like this when talking pictures came in,” Russell observes.


Henry Nemo’s “Don’t Take Your Love From Me” is lush, romantic, a sighed, slow dance with history. Russell appreciates history. She places each song often referring back to original recordings. Grateful nods to artists who paved the way are common. You may be familiar with Bessie Smith, but Virginia Liston? Less well versed fans could take notes.


“Harlem On My Mind” (Irving Berlin) – the title song from Russell’s current CD, is loosely about Josephine Baker, but might be Russell’s own story. The successful, well traveled artist performed gospel and rock before circling back to her roots. Harlem back when is a state of mind, a state of soul in which she’s at home. Vocal is velvety and filled with longing. Few can sing “Heidy Ho!” with such spirited credibility.


Catherine Russell combines the plain spoken with swank. She’s a treat.



Catherine Russell- vocals

Guitarist/musical director- Matt Munisteri, pianist- Mark Shane, bassist- Tal Ronen, drummer- Mark McLean

Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola- Jazz at Lincoln Center     Time Warner Center/Columbus Circle