Susan May

Black Coffee

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If one listened to Black Coffee without knowing anything about Susan May, it would be perfectly logical to assume that the Chicago-based jazz vocalist was well into her twenties. But in fact, May was only 13 when this 48-minute CD was recorded in 2005. There was a time when it wasn't uncommon for 13-year-old girls to listen to vocal jazz or traditional pop -- a time when jazz was very much a part of popular culture. But that was back in the '30s and '40s; in the mid-2000s, girls in their early teens were, generally speaking, much more likely to be into Kelly Clarkson or Avril Lavigne than Sarah Vaughan, Anita O'Day, Carmen McRae, or June Christy. But May is an exception, and she is clearly good at what she does. The precocious singer has a lot going for her -- including a noteworthy vocal range, attractive phrasing, and a healthy sense of swing -- but there are some things that she needs to work on. May doesn't improvise enough, and she devotes way too much time to Tin Pan Alley warhorses that have long since been beaten to death. "The Very Thought of You," "Come Rain or Come Shine," "Love Me or Leave Me," and "With a Song in My Heart" have been recorded so many times over the years that unless an artist is going to try something really different with them, it's best to look for gems that haven't been recorded by hundreds -- or even thousands -- of artists. But again, May is undeniably talented -- and this decent, if conventional, effort makes listeners want to keep a close eye on the Chicagoan and see how she develops as a vocalist.

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