Title - Top Shelf [Japanese Edition]
Artist - Laura Ainsworth
For those not in the know, when Dallas-based retro jazz singer Laura Ainsworth began releasing a series of CDs on her indie label Eclectus Records, she says, “I thought of them as messages in a bottle. I sent them out into the world with no idea if anyone would ever find them.”
Thus she was stunned when her sophisticated lounge jazz won fans, accolades and multiple awards, leading to radio play and performances from Los Angeles to India.
And so with Laura’s music having received such a warm response from Japanese critics and fans of classic American vocal jazz, Japan’s very own Ratspack Records have now created this expanded CD version of her best-of vinyl LP, Top Shelf.
The CD, in coveted mini-LP CD format, includes 16 tracks - 15 of Laura’s favorite tracks from her first three albums, plus the previously-unreleased Irving Berlin classic, You’d Be Surprised.
All are warmly remastered by Jessica Thompson, Grammy-nominated for her work on Erroll Garner’s The Complete Concert by the Sea.
The production was overseen by David Gasten, producer of the popular This is Vintage Now CD compilation series (Laura’s version of An Occasional Man is the lead track on This Is Vintage Now Volume 2).
The Top Shelf CD comes in a plastic protective sleeve with an Obi band, extensive liner notes including info on each song, lyric sheet for all songs, and a 16-page color photo booklet on Laura’s unusual upbringing as the daughter of big band musical prodigy Billy Ainsworth (Tommy Dorsey, Freddy Martin, Ray McKinley, Tex Beneke and more) and her own award-winning mixture of modern and classic lounge/jazz/big band/torch musical styles.
1. That’s How I Got My Start
2. Necessary Evil
3. That’s the Kind of Guy I Dream Of
4. The Gentleman Is A Dope
5. You’d Be Surprised
6. Love For Sale
8. Medley: Long Ago And Far Away/You Stepped Out Of A Dream
9. An Occasional Man
10. Out Of This World
11. Hooray For Love
13. My Foolish Heart
14. Dream A Little Dream Of Me
15. Wasting My Love On You
16. Just Give Me A Man
With the tracks having been were recorded at Crystal Clear Studios in Dallas with renowned pianist/producer/arranger Brian Piper and Laura’s loyal coterie of top Texas jazz players, including John Adams on bass and Chris McGuire on sax and clarinet, this new collection opens on the storytelling ache of That’s How I Got My Start and the bombastic fervor of Necessary Evil (made famous in the ’50s by Frankie Laine) and backs those up with the upbeat and sprightly, albeit it firmly tongue-in-cheek That’s the Kind of Guy I Dream Of.
Next up is the resoundingly forthright, lesser known Rodgers and Hammerstein track The Gentleman Is A Dope and the sultry-embraced throes of the previously unreleased You’d Be Surprised (an Irving Berlin tune made famous by Marilyn Monroe) which are in turn followed by the alluringly refined classic Cole Porter cut Love For Sale, the ornate balladry gossamer of Skylark and then a righteously-creative Medley: consisting of Long Ago And Far Away/You Stepped Out Of A Dream.
Along next comes one of my own personal favorites in the form of the atmospherically Caribbean, finger-snapping attributes of An Occasional Man (sung back in the day by both Sarah Vaughn and Julie London) and then come the luxurious tones of Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen’s Out Of This World, the gentle jazz skip-whirl of Hooray For Love and Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen’s mid-tempo foot-tapper Personality.
Another aching, this time fiddle-imbued ballad in the form of Ned Washington and Victor Young’s My Foolish Heart is up next with the album rounding out on Gus Kahn’s gorgeously sumptuous Dream A Little Dream Of Me, closing on two bonus tracks: the free flowing hipsway of Wasting My Love On You and the late night, smoky jazz club ambiance of Just Give Me A Man.
Japan’s Jazz Critique magazine wrote that “you will quickly become captivated by her alluring singing,” praised her “exceptionally great” voice and “master craftsmanship” that creates “her own one-and-only world.”
They declared Laura “crucial for jazz vocal fans” and Top Shelf “irresistible for 1920-1950s retro standard lovers.”
Jazz Japan likewise hailed Laura’s “silky, vibrant voice” that “conveys elegantly the beauty of the standards.”
In truth, it’s all rather overwhelming for Laura herself, who originally just hoped to help keep alive the music she learned to love from her dad.
Her classic sound has taken her from Texas to Manhattan’s Metropolitan Room to a top jazz club in Dubai and beyond. Now, she says, “As soon as this pandemic is under control, I hope you’ll find me singing Johnny Mercer in Tokyo!”
That’s How I Got My Start - Laura Ainsworth [Official Video]
Where Did The Magic Go - Laura Ainsworth [Official Video]
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