Diahann Carroll

A Tribute to Ethel Waters

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Reissued by Laserlight, this tribute to Ethel Waters, made by Tony Award-winner Diahann Carroll with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, was recorded in Hollywood in 1978 and originally released on the Orinda label. Like most Laserlight releases, there is a dearth of discographical information. Only Carroll and Mercer Ellington, the leader of the Ellington aggregation, are identified. It's just as well that the members of the group remain anonymous, since this is not the kind of playing one usually associates with an Ellington orchestra, or Mercer's. Other than some decent sax solos, the band is not only ordinary, but inconsistent and very loud -- especially the drummer, who seems determined to overwhelm Carroll's vocalizing. Moreover, the title is deceptive -- Carroll appears on only half the tunes, the rest being instrumentals. This deception would have been acceptable if the orchestra had something to offer. Regrettably, it doesn't. Given what she has to work with, Carroll does a credible job honoring the pioneering Ethel Waters, emulating the passionate, emotive style of Waters' era. "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe," "A Cabin in the Sky," and "My Man" are sung quite well, despite the presence of strings (which sound as if they were dubbed). Carroll makes some revisions to the lyrics for "There'll Be Some Changes Made," replacing the names in the song with those of contemporaries, among them Richard Pryor. "Sweet Georgia Brown" is an instrumental with an unimaginative, ragged arrangement. Carroll adds the verse to a very poignant "Am I Blue," which just drips with feeling. But "When Your Lover Has Gone," another instrumental, is done with a backbeat, and includes what sounds like a synthesizer as part of the instrumentation! The sole listenable instrumental is W.C. Handy's jazz anthem "St. Louis Blues." With "Supper Time," Carroll returns once more to the mood and style of Ethel Waters, accompanied by some decent sax playing. Judging from the performances, it seems as if Laserlight literally threw this album together, doing a great disservice to Ethel Waters, Duke Ellington, Diahann Carroll, and any purchaser of this CD.

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