Reviewers Say...

(Melismatic MR CD 101). 62:13 min.

I've Had My Moments; Song of the Wanderer; The You and Me That Used to Be; Old Fashioned Love; Meet Me Where They Play the Blues; Nevertheless (I'm in Love With You); On A Cocoanut Island; Warm Valley; When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful; Street of Dreams; I'll See You in My Dreams; Stardust; Why Don't We Do This More Often?; Back in Your Own Backyard

Reviewed by Michael Steinman

If you ask to be directed to the "jazz singing" section of your local mega-music emporium, you will find the latest Diana Krall or Jane Monheit issue among the CDs featuring lovely women singers. Unfortunately, wonderfully photographed cleavage, long legs, and pouty lips do not an artist make. Sadly, the paper cover emits no sound when inserted in the CD player. Melissa Collard is a refreshing rebuke to this trend, for she is an exceptionally fine singer, her self-produced CD rewarding indeed. Readers have every right to be suspicious of an opening paragraph that ends with such claims, but what seems hyperbole will be revealed as fact in the first minutes of "Old Fashioned Love." 

What's special about Melissa Collard? For one thing, she can truly sing; she's no retro hipster trying to lip-synch. (That's not a small claim: many well-publicized warblers cannot hold notes, stay on key, or understand the lyrics.) Melissa's warm yet understated voice is instantly ingratiating, her approach free from self-dramatizing exaggeration and affectation. She is an old-fashioned artist who puts her talent at the service of the song, rather than insisting that she is the star. Of course, she has a natural swing and harmonic sensitivity (she is a first-rate guitarist, although choosing the underrated Eddie Erickson to handle those musical chores), as well as a superb improviser - note the quietly engaging turns of phrase and rubato in her second choruses. Best of all, she has chosen material obviously meaningful to her. Melissa is no "actress," creating four-minute dramas, but it's clear in every phrase, rueful or jubilant, that she knows what the words mean. Her feeling and intelligence transform even the songs listeners might think they know by heart: Melissa knows the pleasures of being back in her own backyard, of the reassuring joys of old-fashioned ways, and these feelings are conveyed memorably, without strain. What makes her so different from capable singers in this idiom is a deep emotional intuitiveness, reminiscent of later Mildred Bailey, which touches us on every track. In addition, the repertoire she has chosen is deliciously varied and refreshing, evoking Louis (in his Hawaiian phase), Bing, Fats, Duke, Helen Humes, Jimmy Rushing, and Django. She is also willing to share the spotlight with her gifted band - Dan Barrett (often on cornet), Ray Skjelbred, Richard Hadlock, Steven Strauss, "Fiddle Ray" Landsberg, among others, with guest appearances by venerable West Coast trombone masters Bob Mielke and Bill Bardin. Thus, the overall ambiance suggests the best Teddy Wilson sessions of the Thirties, but Melissa is no Billie-clone. 

I had not heard of Melissa before this CD, but I find myself terribly jealous of Californians who have seen her in person. My only consolation is the portable, inspiring pleasure of this CD. I think it's a technological miracle that I can hear her sing "When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful," perform a wordless "Warm Valley," or do a perfectly realized, hilarious duet with the engaging Erickson, on "Why Don't We Do This More Often?" any time I choose, even if it's 7 AM in traffic, on the way to work. Although she may be a new name to many RAG listeners, I can only urge them to put down that familiar CD whose purchase they were considering. Melissa Collard has a rare talent and the CD grows more precious on each replaying.


Copyright 2005 Melissa Collard