Cassandra Wilson’s slow-starting Loverly didn’t take her usual risks

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Cassandra Wilson is regularly categorized as a “jazz” singer, but since 1993’s Blue Light ‘Til Dawn, she has been just as likely to delve into the blues, folk, county, pop and even a bit of hip-hop.

Wilson’s deep, smokey voice already made her a bit distinctive amongst so-called jazz singers, though she’s always been more interesting when she steps outside that stereotype and tackles standards of all styles with originality – much as Lizz Wright is prone to do.

As such Loverly, released on June 10, 2008, wasn’t a top-echelon Cassandra Wilson album, but there were plenty of enjoyable moments to make it worthwhile for anyone who’s a fan of her music.

After dabbling into loops and programmed drums on 2006’s Thunderbird, Wilson more or less returned to her regular self here. All but one tune are jazz or blues standards, and Loverly begins as a slow-starting record. The first three tracks were straightforward renditions where Cassandra Wilson appeared to be just going through the motions.

Beginning with “Gone With the Wind,” though, Wilson’s Loverly began to get more diverting: The samba approach on this selection worked well. “Caravan” brought the musical journey from Brazil to Cuba. Coupled with Marvin Sewell’s 12-string, “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” was given the Tuck and Patti treatment. Robert Johnson was also covered by Wilson, with a sassy, spirited rendition of “Dust My Broom.”

Perhaps the common element across most of the selections was the organic, imaginative West African rhythms employed to propel these songs beyond the run-of-the-mill covers. “Arere,” Cassandra Wilson’s lone original here, seemed to be built entirely around such a rhythm, and that remains particularly spellbinding.

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