Shirley Horn has made a remarkably strong and consistent series of records for Verve. On May the Music Never End, her 12th record for Verve, there are two big changes: the absence of Horn's longtime musical partner bassist Charles Ables, who passed away in 2001, and the addition of a pianist to take the place of Horn's quite capable playing. Ed Howard fills in admirably on bass and George Mesterhazy does the same on piano, except for on two tracks ("Maybe September" and "This is All I Ask") where Ahmad Jamal takes over. Horn's trademark sound is the sparse, languid torch song, with atmospheric piano chords and her gentle and soulful vocals caressing the notes as she slowly lets them ease into the listener's ear. Most of the album is in this downcast, nocturnal mood: the highlights are her smoldering version of the Jacques Brel-Rod McKuen song "If You Go Away," the bossa nova-influenced "Watch What Happens," and the heartbreaking and bleak "Ill Wind." She also does a very nice job with the Gordon Jenkins-penned "September of My Years"-style ballad "This Is All I Ask" and the emotional "May the Music Never End." These two tracks taken together almost sound like Horn saying goodbye to music and the world of jazz and will really bring a lump to the throat of Horn fans. She breaks up the somber mood with a few swinging tracks: the rollicking take on "Forget Me"; the lightly swinging "Take Love Easy," with some nice Roy Hargrove obbligatos; and the martial "Everything Must Change," which features one of Horn's most dramatic vocals and a wonderful moment three and a half minutes into the song where the tight rhythm bursts open and the band hits a big up-tempo groove with Horn soaring over top. The only real clunker here is her version of the Beatles' "Yesterday," a song that has been done just about every way possible. Here Horn cuts the tempo, adds some atmosphere, and actually manages to over sing the song. Her voice pushes at the outer reaches of her range, but her phrasing is strangely urgent and she sounds old for the first time. It is a rare misstep on an otherwise very good record by one of the great underrated jazz singers. If it is indeed her swan song, then she went out the same way she came in: as a true classic.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra