[Vanguard Records (2011)]
When a musical performer stretches into territory that is unsignature-like, it’s not only an admirable personal endeavor; it is an acknowledgement of, and tribute to, legendary artists and music from another genre. So it’s guaranteed that when jazz chanteuse Diane Schuur wraps her expressive vocal chords around some of the true classics of country music for The Gathering, everyone is in for an extraordinary treat. Schuur’s very first recording as a teenager was a country song, and that initial inspiration shines through on this project. Kudos to producer Steve Buckingham for allowing Schuur to do it her way with few embellishments.
The Gathering is an especially apt title for Schuur’s Vanguard debut. She has assembled not only a collection of great songs, but also, with Buckingham’s help, an impressive group of players including Alison Krauss, Kirk Whalum, Vince Gill, and Mark Knopfler to enhance and inform the material in unexpected ways. There’s a sad strength in her rendition of Hank Cochran’s “Don’t Touch Me,” which was popularized by Jeannie Seely, and a refreshing R&B take on Merle Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again.” Her sure vocal clarity underscores the poignancy of “Am I That Easy To Forget,” which was recorded by Jim Reeves among others, and the palpable heartache in Schuur’s voice for the Cochran-penned Patsy Cline hit “Why Can’t He Be You” will have her listeners shedding real tears. The most emotional moment on The Gathering arrives with Tammy Wynette’s beautiful “Til I Can Make It On My Own,” as Schuur confirms it as a country music masterpiece. “I never try to mimic, but believe me, I know Tammy was definitely channeling through me,” says Schuur. She is so right.
Simplicity, genuine emotion and sheer talent are at the core of the best country music—and they are in the heart and soul of Diane Schuur.
—Ellen Geisel (Ballston Lake, NY)