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In the Middle of It All

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Album Review

Melissa Walker's fourth CD is significant in many musical ways, for she is an extraordinarily gifted jazz singer with one foot in the tradition and the other planted in more progressive notions. It was likely that this album would have never come to pass, for Walker battled with allergies and infections, and was ordered by doctors not to speak or sing due to vocal cord paralysis. After a few years of silent recuperation, it is happily reported that she's back to singing, and marvelously at that. The jazz community/family has embraced her return, as a stellar group of first-class players accompanies Walker, including the trio of Aaron Goldberg, Christian McBride, and Clarence Penn, with soloists in guitarists Adam Rogers and Keith Ganz, and on three tracks harmonica player Gregoire Maret. This broad-ranging program includes jazz standards; underground, country, or contemporary pop; R&B; and nu jazz. Walker's voice is pretty strong considering her affliction, retaining a supple sweetness that has not a trace or residue of saccharine. Her slow, late-night take of Arthur Alexander's "In the Middle of It All" indicates she's lost a love and grown from it, with Maret's supportive harmonica buoying her emotional loss. A slinky blues about walking away from that love and pain during "Forget Me" is from both a male and female perspective in a deeper vocal tone than the other tunes. Vindication and trust return on "I'm with You Now," a ballad of assurance aside Goldberg's always competent piano. There are several other songs on the album that reflect these emotions, as if Walker was also struggling with a significant other in addition to her physical issues. The most personal track is "I'll Sing a Song," clearly one she has to sing in her triumphant return to jazz in an upbeat, spirited, tick-tock, steadily improving, and rising beat. But especially check out her take of Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up," assuredly a personal anthem of determination stewed in the most elusive rhythmic pot of disparate elements — a masterpiece! Musically, "Invitation" is an elaborate arrangement on the well-worn standard that raises the bar, as crazy rhythms dot the landscape of Walker's soaring vocals. There's a spare and bouncy take of Jerry Jeff Walker's "Mr. Bojangles," while "Where or When" with Maret closes the set in a serene, settled mood. Clearly this is a recording project that says many things about Walker's personal hell, and how she has persevered to make it back stronger than ever. Check out her three fine Enja label CDs in comparison to this extraordinary recording to see how far she has come. ~ Michael G. Nastos, Rovi

Customer Reviews

One of the best jazz vocal CDs of 2009

One of the best jazz vocal CDs of 2009. Melissa is a cross between Ella and Norah Jones. Her music is very accessible. One of the most compelling interpretations of Mr. Bojangles ever recorded.

In The Middle of it All

I luuv it 2 super! it's very insperational


Born: 1964 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Genre: Romance

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Jazz singer Melissa Walker briefly considered a career in law after graduating from Brown University, but instead launched a career as a vocalist in Washington, D.C., in 1990. There in 1993, she produced her own first album, Little Wishes, which she sold at her performances. She moved to the New York area and studied with Norman Simmons. In 1997, she signed to Enja Records and recorded May I Feel, which was released in Germany. She expanded her performing range, employing her own group and appearing...
Full Bio
In the Middle of It All, Melissa Walker
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