Tierney Sutton claims she had never really encountered Joni Mitchell until she heard the songwriter's 2000 album Both Sides Now, a collection mainly comprised of standards. (An album she holds in the same regard as Frank Sinatra's In the Wee Small Hours and Billie Holiday's Lady in Satin.) In 2011 she performed four of Mitchell's songs during a performance with the Turtle Island String Quartet; that gig set this project in motion. After Blue is Sutton's first offering that doesn’t include her regular band -- its members were involved with other projects at the time. Instead, her collaborators are a collection of jazz luminaries who include Peter Erskine, Larry Goldings, Ralph Humphrey, Hubert Laws, the TISQ, and Al Jarreau, who duets on "Be Cool" (the only track to feature one of Sutton's own musicians, bassist Kevin Axt). Sutton reads Mitchell by moving through the songwriter's various creative periods, embracing the singer/songwriter's jazz leanings in her phrasing, improvisation, and syncopation, and their shared love of the Great American Songbook. This last notion is evidenced by Sutton's version of "Don’t Go to Strangers" and "Answer Me My Love," both of which Mitchell poignantly delivered on Both Sides Now. She also seamlessly melds closer "Freeman in Paris" with "April in Paris." Other standouts include "Blue" and "Little Green" with TISQ, the fingerpopping "The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines" with Laws, Erskine, and Goldings, and the swinging, thoroughly re-envisioned "Big Yellow Taxi." On "Both Sides Now," she is accompanied only by Mark Summer's cello. For those accustomed to hearing Sutton re-interpreting standards from the golden era, After Blue retains her trademark gifts of phrasing, restraint, and emotional honesty. But as an album, it is just as remarkable as Herbie Hancock's The Joni Letters in its creative rapprochement of Mitchell's music with the jazz tradition, and reveals Sutton at a vocal and interpretive peak.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek