It's almost impossible not to fall in love with Casandra Wilson. The pioneering jazz vocalist has carved a unique niche by a fusing contemporary jazz, r & b and folk with the Delta blues of her Mississippi roots. Cassandra's last CD, Glamoured, was self-produced and carried a distinct jazzy vibe. This time around, she wanted something different. The singer/songwriter told Blue Note president Bruce Lundvall that she wanted well-known blues producer T-Bone Burnett—renown for his work on O Brother, Where Art Thou—to help create her newest release.
That disc is Thunderbird and it hits the shelves today—digital jukebox here—a positively brilliant collection of covers and new material. T-Bone has laid down a collection of 10 tracks that range from contemporary jazz to Joni Mitchell-esque folk and each is heavily influenced by the blues and zydeco. Each of them can easily transport you to another time or place. Listening to Thunderbird in the iPod and on the laptop for the past few days, it's been easy to imagine that we're sitting on a porch in old New Orleans, or, playing in the woods on our late grandmother's Mississippi farm. It's so personal yet so relaxed, almost effortless.
The first two tracks will probably get the most attention from casual listeners. Track 1, "Go to Mexico", is a rich, uptempo r & b selection that slyly borrows from zydeco. The lyrics are catchy and the reverb is fabulous. Track 2, "Closer to You", is a jazzy ballad, imagine a younger Shirley Horn.
But two other tracks are in heavy rotation at Rod 2.0's mobile offices. Track 3, "Easy Rider", is the most infectious—and probably the most creative—song of the collection. It begins with Cassandra's sultry voice and minimal guitar accompaniment and builds into a roof raising blues ballad about a woman who lost her man. ("He must be out of town," Cassandra moans. Girl, we've been there, too.) The last track, "Tarot", is another favorite. It's an original tune that is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell—one of Casandra Wilson's strongest influences—yet carries a distinctive 70s r & b edge.
As always, it's impossible to pigeon-hole Cassandra Wilson. That's why she's been so successful and once again raises the bar with Thunderbird.
Cassandra Wilson: Thunderbird (Amazon)