Ranee Lee has been Canada's most enjoyable, reliable jazz singer for many decades running, and shows no signs of slowing down over nearly a dozen albums. This live effort at the nightclub Upstairs in Montreal, Quebec, shows Lee still loves standards done her way, and adds a few tunes with a more contemporary tag placed on them. Her voice still holds the perfect tonal values of her idol Sarah Vaughan, shaded with soulful phrasings closely linked to Ernestine Anderson. But Lee has always been her own woman in personalizing whatever song she sings with only a hint of drama, bravado, or vibrato. She's as strait-laced a singer in jazz as anyone worldwide, and swings with the best alongside her band of local heroes, including her husband/guitarist Richard Ring. When Lee sings "In Love in Vain," you know the spirit of Vaughan is present and accounted for, while her take on "Four" is a bit more elongated, not as clipped as the staccato notes of the melody line. Her unusual choice of Pat Metheny's "A Crooked Road" contrasts in an underground, mysterious manner unlike the other selections, while her lone original, "The Storm," is a blues that only foreshadows the clouds, rain, and thunder. Ring's guitar provides supple support, but is much more resonant during "Beautiful Love," showing a dexterity that perhaps should be showcased on his own date. It's somewhat criminal that Ranee Lee is not ranked among the best jazz singers in the world by polls and record sales, but Lives Upstairs proves beyond a doubt she belongs in that upper echelon.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos