Few jazz vocalists set out to deconstruct a standard as thoroughly as Tierney Sutton does. Her past albums have hovered around a theme but none as devotedly as On the Other Side, which takes the simple concept of happiness and turns it on its ear. Sutton could have approached classics like "Happy Talk," "Make Someone Happy," "Happy Days Are Here Again," and "Get Happy" as most singers would, finding their sweet spots and putting on a big smile as she sang them with ebullience. But these are some of the saddest renditions of happy tunes you'll ever hear, and Sutton's reinventions are such a success because she is so believably bummed. Often turning to minor keys to shift the mood downward, she takes the giddy and makes it melancholy. Rodgers & Hart's "Glad to Be Unhappy," despite its title, is quite often sung as if that's a welcomed state; when Sutton delivers a line such as "It's a pleasure to be sad," she makes certain that she's not appearing ironic. In Jimmie Davis' "You Are My Sunshine," the listener is right to ask whether the singer really means "You'll never know how much I love you," because the loneliness in her voice is so palpable. As always, Sutton's band is entirely sympathetic, their unfussy arrangements providing Sutton with the tonal foundation her unorthodox interpretations require. Her use of two bassists on some tracks doesn't weigh the music down but instead reinforces the darkness Sutton so convincingly conveys. And pianist Christian Jacob, especially, is a major presence -- Sutton's sole accompanist on the album-closing "Smile" (the Charlie Chaplin fave) is bluesy and mournful, the perfect complement to Sutton's unsmiling take. What's most interesting about On the Other Side, though, is that ultimately it doesn't feel like a downer. Sutton's voice is such a flexible, captivating instrument that it's a joy to follow, even as she's doing everything in her power to spread a frown. This CD was nominated for a Grammy award in 2007 for Best Jazz Vocal Album.
AllMusic Review by Jeff Tamarkin