Flying was produced and arranged by Johnaye, who also plays harmonium. The album contains six original pieces and six covers freshly done by Johnaye’s exquisite voicings along with Dawn Clement on piano and keyboards, Chris Symer on bass and D'vonne Lewis on drums. This trio is a vocalist’s dream team.
Johnaye kicks the album off with her original, Never You Mind. The song is a straightahead proclamation of the world our brothers and sisters are forced to confront. It opens with a cymbal wash and the hard rhythm that immediately commands attention.
They push you, they pull you
Don’t even know how much you can bear
Though they tell you that they rule you
Never you mind
You come from a legacy of warriors
And though there’s fear
Know that fear’s what fueled the fire of courage
That lead us here
Though they tell you they control you
Oh, never you mind
It doesn’t take a class in current events to see what Johnaye is telling us. Hers is a prophetic voice that commands a hearing.
From the prophetic to the poetic, Johnaye moves to Lauren Wood’s Fallen which was featured in the 1990 movie, Pretty Woman. D’vonne Lewis’ subtle drumming is a sweet feature of the song with his quiet rim play and one-handed rolls. And that wonderful delivery of Johnaye… goodness. Dawn Clement’s piano and Chris Symer’s bass are so deliciously understated.
Jimmy Van Heusen’s It Could Happen to You is rendered in a snappy way. Johnaye’s scat improv is cool over Symer’s bass lines.
But You Two steals the show. It is a song to her 3-year-old twins. First off, they are adorable children and you can fully imagine Johnaye singing to them in their beds. Clement’s keys are right on target as the bass and drums rock you to slumber. It is a lullaby of comfort, protection, and hope under a blanket of devoted love. As the song fades out, you can hear the lively laughter of the little ones.
But here’s the thing, that sweet laughter is in the shadow of Never You Mind. Even though the little ones may not be ready to hear the prophetic urgings yet, Johnaye is preparing herself to have that conversation.
Ray Noble’s The Very Thought of You is delivered emotionally and sweetly. Johnaye has got the goods and the trio punctuate her treatment beautifully.
I’ve Got No Strings is opened with the tongue-in-cheek bass strings of Chris Symer. It is, of course, the famous song from Pinocchio. Johnaye, however, gives her version a smoother, more placid, more truthful approach than the bouncy original version from Disney.
Scorpion is Johnaye’s original musical version of the famous story of the scorpion who wanted to find another animal to ferry it across the river and, finding a willing carrier, then stings the animal to death. As the animal died, it asked the scorpion why it would sting him to death, thus drowning the scorpion, too. The scorpion’s reply, “It is my nature.” Johnaye clearly has someone else in mind in this romp. “I should have known. It’s in your nature.”
The Lonely One (Hambro and Heller) was made popular in 1956 by Nat King Cole. Johnaye turns in a more bossa nova version. Somewhere, Nat King Cole is saying, “I wish I’d recorded it like that.” The same goes for her rendition of John Mayer’s 3x5. With apologies, Johnaye’s version is far superior to the Mayer original. Again, that brilliant trio helps Johnaye make that happen.
She closes the album with three of her own originals. Secrets is a smartly constructed song. The opening section is like a reprimand and a remorse. Then the refrain takes on a hymnic tone amidst the accusation. The music is powerful and moving. The song closes with a return to the lament. I loved the structure of the piece. So well-written.
Boxed Wine is the very definition of a back-handed compliment. While Johnaye sings with a wistful and charmed seductiveness, she manages to get in a dig that just stings. Unless it just my jaded nature that sees it. I loved the way she faded out singing a capella.
She closes the album with her own composition, Flying. There can be little doubt that Johnaye is being transparently autobiographical. It is a song of triumph over criticism and self-doubt.
Indeed, the whole album is full of scenes from a singer’s life. The trials, the joys, the betrayals and, above all, the love are all laid bare. Flying, the album, is emotional and humorous, honest and powerful. It is instructive and inspirational and oh-so-uplifting.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl