What people are saying about the Music
"Shelley's got that original blues singer's sound...her voice hearkens back to Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey and Ethel Waters."
– Dave Brubeck
Irish Eyes Gypsy Soul
“Five years have passed since Shelley Neill completed her masterful trilogy of blues-injected jazz albums. Now Neill is back with startlingly original takes on eight familiar tunes. Neill’s
opener, “Fly Me to the Moon,” has been swung hard by Sinatra and swung soft by Diana Krall. Neill opts for an entirely fresh tack, lazily drawing out the lyric’s seductiveness to shape five minutes
of scorched foreplay. Conversely, on “Fever,” Neill chooses to reduce the temperature, allowing the temptation to simmer, then cranks the heat as she segues into “Comes Love.”
Dipping into the pop-rock bag, she soothes the Motown-fueled dance-fever intensity of “Heat Wave”; revivifies Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” by bathing it in waves of quiet contemplation; frees Barbara Lewis’ “Hello Stranger” from its bop-doo-wop roots and refits it as a slinky, bossa-influenced lure; and transforms “Dedicated to the One I Love” from a yearning teenage lament into a sweet lullaby. But most imaginative is her take on Abbey Lincoln’s “The Music Is the Magic,” with Neill as shadow-enfolded high priestess, enticing passers-by to surrender before spellbinding song.
– Christopher Loudon, JazzTimes Magazine
Excerpts from Vox CD review
by Christopher Loudon (August 03)
"Her four-year journey to explore the impact of blues on jazz culminates with this year’s release. Shelley Neill unites the same band that aided her quite successfully in her previous study of the blues in jazz. Bassist John Lockwood’s feature on “At Last” cries out with deep passion. Drummer Yoron Israel’s exotic hands-on drum introduction to “Comes Love” sets up an earthy landscape for the band to dig into.
Neill wears the blues well. Her portrayal of sensual ballads, such as “At Last” and “Don’t Explain,” generate deep feeling. “Am I Blue” features Laszlo Gardony as her conversational, keyboard partner. Together they pour out the sorrow that we associate with being blue. Why sing about depression? Because songs such as “Empty Bed Blues” and “Me and the Blues” cause us to step back to take a look at our situation. By looking at ourselves from afar, we’re able to defeat those blues and pull ourselves out of it.
"Neill has a distinctive voice that...
can be likened to the great Bessie Smith..."
"Don’t be fooled by Shelley Neill’s conservative Bostonian roots or her Melanie Griffith blondeness. Beneath those sunny curls is a head for the blues and a torch-singer sensibility that echoes such faded greats as Libby Holman and Ruth Etting. Envisioned as a companion piece to Neill’s estimable The Blues Runs Through It, the new Envisioning Blue serves up saucily revitalized treatments of… “Am I Blue,” “It Was Written in the Stars,” “Me and the Blues” and “Now’s the Time.” …her kickass “Don’t Explain,” swapping out Billie Holiday’s victimized sorrowfulness for strident dignity… And if you thought Etta James was the only one who could quicken your pulse with a scorching “At Last,” get set for a version so vigorous it could steam up the windows of Beacon Hill’s frostiest mansions."
– Jim Santella, LA Jazz Scene
The Blues Runs Through It
All Music Guide (AMG) Rating:
4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
"For her third album for her Cobalt Blue Music label, Shelley Neill continues to explore the links between blues and vocal jazz with a list of songs that runs the calendar gamut from 1923 to the modern day. Backed by a quartet of Laszlo Gardony on piano, John Lockwood on bass, Yoron Israel on drums, and John Blake Jr. on violin, Neill applies her powerful, expressive style to songs that may not be strictly blues tunes, but which have a blues feel to them. Moreover, Neill's vocal style has a built-in empathy for yearning in it, giving everything she sings a sort of blues/R&B inflection, making the interpretations uniquely her own...Adding a violin to the session gives a sensation of poignancy, fitting well with the artistic thrust of the album. "Downhearted Blues," a favorite of Bessie Smith's, is given a modern dressing led by Israel's drums, without its traditional veneer. Similarly, the Billie Holiday classic "Strange Fruit" is given an avant-garde jazz introduction led by the heavy tremolo of Gardony's piano and the eerily pitched strings of Blake's violin. The intro consumes more than six and a half minutes of the ten and three-quarters minutes allotted for the tune, before Neill floats in singing in French before the rest of the accompaniment resumes. Different, to say the least. Blake's violin, when matched with the cry in Neill's rendering of "It Was Written in the Stars," makes it a first-rate cut. With each release, Neill has grown to a point where she is becoming a major interpreter of the American Songbook. "
– Dave Nathan, All Music Guide Review Excerpt
"Shelley Neill’s… release finds her more deeply engaged with the rhythm team, digging deeper into the innards of the material at hand, her forceful contralto voice as supple and expressive as ever…and always under perfect control. Her reading of Buddy Johnson’s “Fell” is full of soul music Zeitgeist. Her take on Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw” is chock full of bruised passion and defiant resignation.
“Solitude” provides a fitting climax for the brief recital, with powerful bass work from Ron Mahdi, and an impassioned performance from Neill. There’s more than a little anguish in her iteration of the line in which she confronts the idea that she’ll “soon go mad.” Her downward slurring at the end of that “mad” line is pure genius. Nobody has ever sung the song to better effect.
An exemplary disc, if even only little more
than half an hour in duration. You have to
come to grips with the balance between quality
and quantity sometime, and it may as well be
here and now."
– Cadence Magazine Review Excerpt