'Walkin' by the River' With Marty Elkins on New Nagel Heyer Records Release [REVIEW]

By Mike Greenblatt on Apr 10, 2016 01:02 PM EDT

It's all in the songs you choose. Early in her career, vocalist Marty Elkins had some help from the legendary New Orleans kingpin Allen Toussaint. Now the native New Yorker has had her third CD, Walkin' By The River, released by German label Nagel Heyer. Backed by a hot band of trumpet, guitar, organ, piano, bass and drums, her 13 songs have some real doozies.

With an unforgettable melody written in 1926 by the great Harlem stride pianist James P. Johnson [1894-1955], "If I Could Be With You (For One Hour Tonight)" is a simple and delightful request for sex. Not since Louis Armstrong made that request in 1983 has the song been imbued with such sexual tension.

When she asks Louis Jordan's similarly situated 1944 "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby," she's playful. Her cover of Kay Starr's lewd 1947 "Garbage Can Blues" is toned down but still. What a great pick! "Stick out your can!" So four songs in and Elkins certainly has my attention.

Now it really gets good: she plucks three more from The Roaring Twenties. "When My Sugar Walks Down the Street" rivals Ella Fitzgerald's version. "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Cryin'" is a female perspective of the Ray Charles version, and "There'll Be Some Changes Made" even gives the Fats Waller original a run for its money.

One of my favorite tracks, "Down to Steamboat Tennessee," was rescued from the dustbin of time. I mean, really, has anyone ever even heard of Lee Wiley whose 1951 original has long been forgotten? Great find! No, her version of Cab Callaway's 1932 "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" doesn't best the original but it certainly equals George Harrison's 2002 version.

I must be going out of my mind. How could I be saying these things? Of course Elkins isn't the greater artist than the aforementioned legends but I've got to tell you: Listening to these songs, arranged in this way, sung by this singer, is a total delight. Far too often, jazz singers strive for a gravitas that ultimately equals boredom. Marty Elkins is fun. Pure fun. And now I'm still humming some of these long-ago and far-away songs.

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TagsMarty Elkins, REVIEW, Nagel Heyer Records, Allen Toussaint