By Don Heckman
On the road. It’s the one experience that is common to every musician – jazz, country, classical, rock, rap, you name it. It’s almost impossible to have a career making music without having to pack a suitcase and climb into a car, a bus, a train, a boat or a plane.
That was one of the motivations behind singer/pianist Carol Welsman’s new album, Journey. But there were others, as well. The fundamental view of life and love as a journey was one. Plus the very practical fact that the Great American Songbook is bursting with songs inspired by travel.
On Thursday night at Vitello,’s Welsman celebrated the release of Journey with a mesmerizing performance of select songs from the album. Along with a few equally compelling numbers – a high spirited romp through a vocalese rendering of “Cottontail” was one – that had nothing whatever to do with travel.
But the centerpiece of the program was a collection of songs rich with the romance and the poignancy, the pleasures and the unpredictables of the journey.
To mention a few of the highlights: Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” was re-imagined with gentle, bossa nova-tinged rhythms. On Bob Russell and John Benson Brooks’ too-rarely heard “You Came A Long Way From St. Louis” Welsman’s blues-inflected interpretation perfectly captured the tune’s sardonic whimsy. Bobby Troup’s “Route 66,” another blues-driven tune, emerged as an upbeat swinger.
There was an exquisite rendering of Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get To Phoenix,” sung by Welsman primarily with her own piano accompaniment, delivered in an intimate narrative fashion that found the inner heart of the song. And Henry Mancini’s “Two For The Road,” a tune he described as his own favorite of his many songs, was combined with “Moon River” for yet another affecting view of love’s journey.
And there was more. A lovely pair of travel songs, both dealing with loss in their own unique fashion: the Mercer/Van Heusen classic, “And I Thought About You,” and Peggy Lee and Victor Young’s affecting “Where Can I Go Without You.’ And two blues-driven numbers: B.B. King’s cautionary tale, “Never Make Your Move Too Soon” and Herb Ellis and Johnny Frigo’s metaphoric “Detour Ahead” added another slant.
This far-reaching collection, a compelling overview of the many musical manifestations of journeying, was delivered in memorable fashion by Welsman, with the superlative aid of guitarist Dan Sawyer, bassist Rene Camacho and drummer Jimmy Branley. Singing this kind of material, in a felicitous musical setting, Welsman revealed her remarkable, far reaching range – from her swinging, supportive piano to the warm-toned, richly expressive qualities of her voice. Add to that her gift for musical story-telling, and there’s no wonder why this was such an enchanting evening.
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(Full Disclosure: I wrote the liner notes for Welsman’s “Journey” album. But it’s easy to maintain critical objectivity with someone as talented as Carol.)