Heart First (Justin Time Records)
By Brian Arsenault
Oh yeah, this is good stuff. If you could walk into a club with Halie Loren and this band playing the title song and all, you might never leave. You’d just learn to drink something like vodka on the rocks even if you never liked it before.
What you have here are some terrific jazz standards and compositions from Bob Marley to Van Morrison to Charley Chaplin, not to mention some fine tunes from Halie herself. All performed unerringly by the singer and this great little band assembled from her road group and some other first rate musicians.
Early up you have “C’est Si Bon” done en francais and you have visions of your own midnight in Paris. A couple songs later there’s “Sway,” pure Bogey and Bacall. Hemingway in Havana after a day of marlin fishing.
“Heart First” shows Ms. Loren can write this kind of stuff herself.
It’s later, though, on “Taking A Chance On Love” that I felt, for one of the very few times ever, that here was a singer who has a gift for phrasing which comes close to Sinatra’s stylings. She just makes this old standard hers.
Halie Loren can even make a light little vehicle like “Lotta Love” have depth and resonance.
Want more? Somewhere in infinity Bob Marley is torching up a blunt and smiling to hear Halie’s version of “Waiting in Vain.” It’s reggae gone jazz. It’s so different yet so true to the immortal Marley. Interestingly, perhaps even strangely, the reggae beat comes not here but near the end when she does her version of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.”
And then there’s “Smile,” the Chaplin ode to getting through the pain with a grin. It’s almost not fair to use this tear jerker to win over even a nasty old reviewer. But it works. Oh, and if you don’t like the accordion part, we have nothing to discuss.
The musicianship throughout is top shelf. I’ve never heard a cello play under and support a singer’s voice quite like Dave Bradley combines with Halie on her composition “In Time,” which she dedicates to the people of Japan where she apparently is wildly popular.
Alternately sexy and smooth, sultry and wry, Ms. Loren uses her not inconsiderable gifts well. I only found a couple of the standards less than satisfying.
It may be that I have just heard too many versions of “Feeling Good” in recent years or maybe the song is just a little cloying. And I thought the arrangement of “All of Me” tried just a little too hard to get something new out of the old saw. Weirdly, the drums sounded like they could play behind a Mario Brothers jaunt through troubled lands.
But Heart First c’est si bon. Truly.
To read more reviews and posts by Brian Arsenault, click HERE.