Carmen McRae

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Carmen McRae is perhaps the most underrated of all the great jazz vocalists. Her career stretched over many eras and stylistic changes, but she always delivered first-rate performances that wrung every drop of nuance and emotion from a lyric or a melody. There are many fine collections of her work from a variety of labels and though her entry in the Verve Standards series is brief at only eight tracks, it works as an introduction to a McRae neophyte. The tracks are taken from an incredible run of albums she made for Decca in the '50s and include great examples of her wit, style, and way with a lyric. She could take a slow song and knock you out with it as on her take on “My Funny Valentine,” which shows the value of precise phrasing and singing inside the melody, She could also swing like mad and was able to put across humorous lyrics without overdoing it. Her duet with Sammy Davis, Jr. on “A Fine Romance” is a good example of this. McRae was an original talent, and while this collection may be a good starting point, once you hear her sing, you’ll want to seek out a more comprehensive compilation.

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