From session singer par excellence to best selling recording artist, the breathtaking Patti Austin has entertained and captivated with a string of R & B orientated hits that I am proud to include in my own list of all time favorites. ‘In And Out Of Love’ from the album of the same name, ‘Through The Test Of Time’ and the incredible ‘Hurry Home’ from her ‘That Secret Place’ collection all luxuriate in that warm place somewhere between jazz and R & B yet with her brand new project, ‘Sound Advice’, Patti is not only re-imagining some of the biggest pop hits of the past fifty years but is also taking a thematic approach by ensuring each of the twelve choice tracks carry with them some sort of advice. The result is everything that one would expect from an iconic performer still totally at the top of her game.
This motif of advice giving is quickly on display with the CD’s opening cut, a gospel charged version of the 1994 Des’ree hit ‘You Gotta Be’ and again for a gutsy interpretation of the Rolling Stones ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’. In both cases the treatment that Austin affords these familiar numbers serves to bestow them with originality far above what might normally be found in mere ‘covers’ and her intent to keep the production and arrangements as simple as the material would allow is exemplified by her stark and poignant handling of Don McLean’s ‘Vincent’.
Sinatra’s evergreen ‘My Way’ also finds Austin in deconstructed mode. In fact the inclusion of this seminal tune has its origins in a proposed piano - vocal album which, as yet, remains in the works and a classic of a different genre comes in the form of Bill Withers ‘Lean On Me’. It is in the good company of ‘Give It Up’ (from the Jacksons 1980 project ‘Triumph’) that Austin uses to tip a hat to the memory of Michael Jackson while elsewhere the new musical light she sheds on Brenda Russell’s ‘A Little Bit Of Love’ is wonderful to behold.
Returning to the underlying theme of ‘Sound Advice’, Patti finds a place for McCartney’s ‘Let Em In’, not just because it is a great song but also to raise awareness of immigration in the USA and the alarming tendency for that country to take what appears to be an ever increasingly isolationist stance. Truth to tell, Austin has never been one to shy away from the issues and her own composition, ‘By The Grace Of God’ has been taken up as the musical theme by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence’.
This understanding of what is going on in the world around her adds hugely to the sincerity of what Patti Austin does and although she is nothing short of magnificent with both the Depeche Mode hit ‘Enjoy The Silence’ and Bob Dylan’s much neglected ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’, the real show stopper is another song for which she has a writing input. Indeed, she composed the soulfully rocking ‘Round And Round’ with long term collaborator Greg Phillinganes who is well known for his work with greats such as Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones. A colossal high point of an album that really reaches the heights, this is one that will live in the memory.
‘Sound Advice’ will be released May 17 on the Shanachie label and is worth checking out.