Barbara Montgomery's strongest album came in 2000, when the Philadelphia-based jazz singer recorded her ambitious Chick Corea tribute, Dakini Land. As a rule, her work has been decent, but Dakini Land (Montgomery's third album) was especially memorable -- it was interesting to hear a vocalist offering her perspectives on Corea's music. Although Dakini Land was a tough act to follow, Montgomery's fourth album, Little Sunflower, is a respectable follow-up. Much of this 2002 release is moody, if not downright dark -- especially the haunting "An Illusion" and Montgomery's interpretations of Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower" and Duke Pearson's "Idle Moments" (both of which she wrote lyrics for). And when one reads the liner notes, it isn't hard to understand why Little Sunflower has as many dark moments as it does. Montgomery worked on this album when some tragic events were on her mind; one was the senseless death of a friend, and also there were the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. (Montgomery lives in the Philly suburbs -- only about 90 miles from where the World Trade Center's twin towers once stood.) But even though Little Sunflower has a lot of dark lyrics, it isn't a totally pessimistic album. "E-Mail Blues," for example, is typical of the blues (and a lot of country music, for that matter) in that it manages to find humor in life's challenges. And her version of Corea's "Armando's Rhumba" brings some optimism and hope to the CD. Throughout Little Sunflower, Montgomery reminds listeners that a jazz singer needn't have the biggest chops in the world to provide a meaningful album. Montgomery doesn't have a huge voice, but she is an expressive, soulful artist who, despite her limitations, gets her points across. Although Dakini Land remains her most essential release, Little Sunflower is an obviously heartfelt addition to the singer's catalog.
Little Sunflower Review
by Alex Henderson