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Review: Jon Cleary & Debbie Davis 

David Kunian on new albums from some local favorites

Jon Cleary
(FHQ Records)

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The work of Allen Toussaint spans decades and countless singers, bands and settings. On his latest record Occapella!, Jon Cleary takes some of the most famous and rare Toussaint tunes and puts his own distinctive sound on them. Toussaint wrote songs for a range of vocalists, and an even larger group has done versions of his songs, from Benny Spellman and Lee Dorsey to Glen Campbell and Elvis Costello. Cleary uses the adaptability of Toussaint's work to his advantage. Some tunes feature conventional arrangements, such as the funk of "Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky" and the pop/rhythm and blues feel of "What Do You Want The Girl to Do." But most, such as his mysterious, ethereal version of "Southern Nights," take Toussaint's songs to places they have rarely been. Cleary's vocal and piano work here have their usual warmth, and he captures the idiosyncrasies of Toussaint's voice and keyboards without sounding derivative. Touches such as the subtle Cuban rhythm of "When The Party's Over," country-style guitar of "Wrong Number" and the contrasting falsetto background vocals that abound on the record add depth and a sense of surprise to both familiar and obscure tunes. No matter how Cleary does it, he adds his impeccable taste and smoothness to Toussaint's standards. And Cleary shows that he has learned well from his years listening to the rhythm and blues of the Crescent City. The daring final track is a quick instrumental version of "Fortune Teller" that starts off late-night slow-and-soulful but turns into a New Orleans piano burner that sears Cleary's name into the pantheon of Crescent City piano greats. — David Kunian

Debbie Davis
It's Not the Years, It's the Miles

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After years of singing with everyone from All That to the Pfister Sisters, Debbie Davis has partnered with Threadhead Records to release her first solo album. The project offers great diversity in song choices and contributions from local musicians. Davis' background is in opera and musical theater, but she can belt out brassy blues like "Mama Goes Where Papa Goes" and slink to low-register coyness on the Beatles' "Things We Said Today." But she excels when she sings tunes composed by local songwriters. She delivers deadpan ruefulness in the humorous couplets of Alex McMurray's title track and quiet longing in the '60s pop of Paul Sanchez's "Don't Be Sure." Mark Bingham's "Two Crested Caracaras" features an emotional tone with subtle restraint in an atmospheric arrangement. Just as the tracks veer toward the too tasteful, Davis takes on the self-loathing regret of Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good," complete with sousaphone, Latin percussion and acid-tinged guitar. She stashes that tune near the end where it segues into a piano duet with Bobby Lounge on the old blues/gospel standard "Trouble In Mind." Lounge's over-the-top stylings push Davis, which raises the energy level and results in a stirring rendition. Bassist Matt Perrine, drummer Carlo Nuccio and percussionist Anthony Cuccia lay down a variety of supple grooves and swinging rhythms. Violinist Matt Rhody, trumpeters Duke Heitger and David Boswell, and pianists Jon Cleary and Tom McDermott also add polished and passionate support. This is undoubtedly Debbie Davis' show, however, and her wide stylistic range and fine vocals make it a good show indeed. — DAVID Kunian


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