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The Essential Dinah Washington: The Great Songs

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Album Review

Dinah Washington recorded a stunning amount of material in her too-short career (when she died in Detroit in 1963 she was only 39 years old), most of it during her lengthy association with Mercury Records between 1948 and 1955, the era covered by this single-disc retrospective. Washington seemingly tackled everything under the sun in the recording studio, cutting jazz, R&B, blues, and pop sides with an assortment of small groups, trios, sextets, and increasingly, toward the end of her life, with large orchestras, and if she seemed to be gradually fading into blander and sleeker arrangements as time went on, her voice always remained focused and coiled, and her bluesy phrasing has influenced far more singers than most folks realize. This hourlong set includes a range of styles, from the elegant blues of "Backwater Blues" to the sleek, orchestrated "What a Diff'rence a Day Made" and the poppy R&B of "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)," one of her popular duets with Brook Benton. Also worth noting are versions of two Cole Porter songs, the relatively straight-ahead reading of "I Get a Kick Out of You" contrasted with an experimental jungle beatnik rendition of "I've Got You Under My Skin" that will have you either shaking your head or nodding in delight. Washington's Mercury years were arguably her best, and this set makes a good introduction to them. More serious listeners may want to investigate the seven-volume (each volume containing three discs) Complete Dinah Washington on Mercury, Rovi


Born: August 29, 1924 in Tuscaloosa, AL

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s

Dinah Washington was at once one of the most beloved and controversial singers of the mid-20th century -- beloved to her fans, devotees, and fellow singers; controversial to critics who still accuse her of selling out her art to commerce and bad taste. Her principal sin, apparently, was to cultivate a distinctive vocal style that was at home in all kinds of music, be it R&B, blues, jazz, middle of the road pop -- and she probably would have made a fine gospel or country singer had she the time. Hers...
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