Nancy Wilson

Lush Life

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Nancy Wilson was one of the few jazz-based pop singers of the 1960s who was able to navigate that decade's rock & roll-crazed waters and stay on top of the single and album charts. While her natural physical beauty certainly didn't hurt her career, it was probably her honest feel for soul and the blues, as well as jazz, that had her riding high during a time when so many of her peers were being dropped by the major labels or moving to Europe. Lush Life follows Wilson's winning formula of combining jazz and adult pop, but while individual tracks stand out, a heavy Barbra Streisand influence hurts the disc overall. Like Babs, Wilson possesses pipes powerful enough to blow the roof off of a barn (as she does on "Free Again" and "Over the Weekend"), but her real gifts come out on the lightly swinging "River Shallow" and a slowly building ballad reading of Bobby Hebb's "Sunny" that puts a fresh spin on the over-exposed 1960s staple. Expert West Coast jazz musicians such as Shelly Manne and Ted Nash contribute to the session, but Billy May and Oliver Nelson's charts are often too string-heavy. While the album is cohesive, it's a shame that you can't tell the difference between the work of two normally singular and unique arrangers. Still, both men did build solid foundations for Nancy Wilson, and Billy May uses the title track as a means to tip his hat to Billy Strayhorn, the song's composer, with a smart mix of big band swagger, intimate small-group jazz, and moody orchestral flourishes straight out of an old film noir. While Lush Life is a pleasing effort that will be enjoyed by Nancy Wilson fans, Welcome to My Love, her 1968 collaboration with Oliver Nelson alone, keeps the strings while wisely ditching the Streisand feel.

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