Until now, most mention of Sunny Ozell has centered around the fact she is the ‘nearly half his age’ girlfriend and now wife of actor Patrick Stewart. Ok, let’s get past that because there’s now something far more interesting to talk about. Having spent some years paying her dues in the New York clubs, the classically-trained Nevada native has released her debut album ‘Take it with Me’, a smoky cocktail of jazz, blues and American roots that reveals a sweet but sassy vocal and a good ear for arrangements and classy tunes.
Recorded under the supervision of producer/drummer Ethan Eubanks (an erstwhile member of Joe Sample’s trio), it features her core live band of bassist Andy Hess, keyboards man Andrew Sherman and guitarist Aaron Lee Tasjan whose various credits include Black Crowes, George Duke, Maria Carey and Drivin’ n Cryin’; fleshed out with horns, pedal steel (courtesy of Jon Graboff from The Cardinals) and strings.
Although Ozell doesn’t include any self-penned songs, she knows how to pick her material. The album opens with Leon Russell’s Manhattan Island Serenade, driven by a repeated stabbing piano line, and, again piano-based, closes with a poignant interpretation of the Waits/Brennan ballad Take It With Me.
Inbetween, you’ll find a relaxed take on Pops Staples’ gospel groove Move Along Train, Randy Newman’s reflective piano ballad Louisiana 1927, a tender, softly sung reading of little known Roy Orbison/Bob Neuwirth/T Bone Burnett co-write Kill Zone and a brassed up soulful, jazzy swing reinvention of Howard Jones’ electro pop 80s hit No One Is To Blame. There’s also a country waltz through Hank Williams classic I Can’t Help (If I’m Still In Love With You) on which she duets with Teddy Thompson, calling to mind My Darling Clementine.
The two other covers are by lesser known names. New York pianist/songwriter Julian Velard contributes Family Tree from his Mr. Saturday Night album, Fender Rhodes and Kevin Kendrick on vibes enriching the warm soul pop and its background harmonies. The other comes courtesy of Nashville-based David Mead, Only In The Movies an almost Broadway musical sounding piano-based ballad from his 2003 release Mine And Yours.
Guitarist Tasjan provides the album’s remaining two tracks, the hand-clapping rockabilly gospel n blues Git Gone and, by way of contrast, the summery, strings-coated, soul-searching introspective acoustic Number One, both suggesting listeners should further explore his own discography.
This isn’t about to make Ozell the new Diana Krall (although there is a definite hint of Phoebe Snow about her) and is more likely to fare better stateside, but it’s a quality release that should go a long way to ending reference to her in terms of her other half.
Review by: Mike Davies
Take it with Me is Out Now
Order via Amazon