Dee Dee Bridgewater ‘Memphis …Yes, I’m Ready’ (Okeh/Sony Masterworks) 5/5

Now then. Under normal circumstances I steer well clear of albums that simply cover what has preceded the artist, I view it as pretty lame, I mean if you can get into a studio with a house band why would you not seize the moment and provide some new songs? But hang on… this is Dee Dee Bridgewater, the possessor of a phenomenal jazz/soul voice with a myriad of classy recordings behind her! I just had to give her some laser flicker time, and guess what… WOW. I take back what I said – I’m hanging my head in shame.

She’s gone back to her southern roots, throughout this album you can hear Memphis Tennessee, from the songs chosen to the very tight band she’s got behind her. She was born in the city known for its pivotal part in American culture, music and the Civil Rights struggle. Bridgewater was/is part of an American legacy. After moving to Flint, Michigan, Bridgewater’s childhood nights were spent tuning into Memphis WDIA, the first radio station in the nation featuring all-black programming. It was also the station where “Matt the Platter Cat” spun tuneage.

She’s backed here by the Stax Academy Choir and recorded at Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios. Co-Produced by Bridgewater and Kirk Whalum. She’s recut in her own style “Why? (Am I Treated So Bad)” by the Staple Singers and what a corking version it is. Special mention must go to “Yes I’m ready” which starts off very close to the original but then morphs into a totally fresh jazz influenced opus, but paying close homage to the original, on every track she gives an inspired vocal performance, some lovely jazz inflections and oozing soul. I’m also taken by her version of “B.A.B.Y.”, such a well known song and an accepted classic in the soul world, but she’s done it again and I love it. She’s also provided a funky strolling version of “The thrill is gone” which really is poised for radio plays, very Ann Peebles. Not a duff track on display.

Musically it’s what we have come to expect from this icon, a very tight band, honking horns, some sort of Wurlitzer/Hammond popping up, thumping bass and excellent percussion.

Her career has spanned four decades, a 2017 NEA Jazz Master and three-time Grammy and Tony award winner, plus she’s a UN Goodwill Ambassador.

Enough of me, sorry, got to go and play this again loud, which is what you should be doing.

P.S. Does anyone remember her stunning performance of “Let’s do it again” from the 2002 BWB ‘Groovin’ album, Kirk Whalum on Sax, simply wonderful.

Brian Goucher