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July 24, 2024

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Katharine Whalen
Jazz Squad (Mammoth)

By: Alex Steininger

Squirrel Nut Zipper's Katharine Whalen is stepping out from the Zippers to put a spin on all her jazz favorites from the 20's and 30's. Whereas the Zippers are all over the map -- covering everything from swing to pop, sometimes in the same song--Katharine focuses purely on jazz this time around. Eleven covers (and one original by fellow Zipper, and husband, Jimbo Mathus) make this album a jazz lovers delight.

"Deed I Do" establishes this album as a silky smooth, warm masterpiece from the beginning. Katharine's voice is dead-on; she sings with such beauty, the song is turned upside down as she breathes new life into it and transforms it into a classic once again.

"Sugar," adds a little bounce to her red carpet treatment of the classics; the song possesses the hot feet of the piano and a consistent tapping from the drummer, which puts a little swing in the number. The horns soar like an eagle through a golden sky, adding warmth and depth with every note they pour into the song. Katharine's voice is always the center focus of the song, and with good reason. It is the additional instrument--the hidden weapon, if you will--of the band and lures you in with a sweet sound that melts you at the knees.

Then there is "Just You, Just Me," which finds you in a lounge setting, sipping on a martini while you gaze the beautiful woman in the dress on stage singing her heart out. Her voice echoes throughout the club, and everyone falls in love more and more with every note that is sang. That is exactly the mood Katharine will place in your mind with this seductive, smooth jazz number. And when the horns come in and steal the show, there is nothing you can do but sit back and enjoy.

Another lounge number sure to put a smile on your face, "My Old Flame" once again finds Katharine on center stage while the audience sits on the edge of their seats, drawn in closer and closer as she lures them in with a beautiful piano and strong vocals.

The one new song on this album, "Badisma," written by Katharine Whalen's Jazz Squad guitarist and husband, Jimbo Mathus, is a stylish instrumental. Though it doesn't give Katharine the chance to show off her lovely vocals, which leaves a gap in the sound, the band is so right on the mark, and play true to their 20's and 30's influences, you can't help be taken away by it.

"My Baby Just Cares For Me" is sang with so much honesty and warmth, as well confidence that could be perceived as arrogance, Katharine once again blows the audience away with her vocal capabilities, while the band backs her up and helps flush the songs right out and bring them to life. The horns go through your body melting you with each note, while the rhythm section keeps the song steady and smooth. Add to that the intrigue of the guitar, and the burning piano, and you've gone one heck of a jazz number sure to bring you plenty of good times and lots of love.

Though it is not the Squirrel Nut Zippers, it parallels them in honesty and integrity. This album is a blast from the past, with a fresh re-birth. Yet, it never gives up its love for the past, and sounds truly authentic, as though it was recorded back in the 20's and 30's. Jazz lovers, here it is, you're next purchase. I'll give it an A+.

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