The Gathering

by: Diane Schuur

Including compilations, jazz pianist and vocalist Diane Schuur has over 20 recordings. That said, she's never issued anything like The Gathering, her debut offering for Vanguard. Cut in Nashville in one day -- with another dedicated to overdubs and fixes -- Schuur and her band perform ten absolutely classic songs from the country music canon in her own signature style. It's clear that while she wanted to be reverent toward the material, she was also interested in omitting the twang. Schuur plays acoustic piano, but is also backed by Mike Rojas on Wurlitzer, Eddie Bayers on drums, Steve Gibson on guitar, bassist Michael Rhodes, and vibraphonist Eric Darken. The set opens with a stellar rendition of Hank Cochran's ballad "Why Can't He Be You?" Schuur croons and swoons vocally, moving the tune toward the pop audience Cochran was reaching for when he wrote it. This is followed by a beautiful reading of Willie Nelson's "Healing Hands of Time," on which saxophonist Kirk Whalum adds a deeply soulful solo without forsaking any of the tune's melodic intent; it is painted further by Mark Knopfler's and producer Steve Buckingham's guitars. The reading of Dallas Frazier's "Beneath Still Waters" isn't as emotionally moving as Emmylou Harris', but perhaps that's because Schuur foregoes a plaintive vocal in favor of a full-throated bluesy one. The reading of Tammy Wynette's "Til I Can Make It on My Own" does the opposite: it may lack the drama of the author's version, but in its place are warmth and elegance. Vince Gill lends harmony vocals to Merle Haggard's and Bonnie Owens' "Today I Started Loving You Again," which is funked-up George Benson-style by the addition of Larry Carlton's guitar as the cut's driving force. Alison Krauss harmonizes on another Cochran tune, "Don't Touch Me," with the lilting Wurlitzer underscoring Schuur's lead vocal. Perhaps the most compelling track here is her version of Bill Anderson's and Roger Miller's "When Two Worlds Collide," as jazz and country meet head on and become something else. The set closes with a radical take on Kris Kristofferson's "Nobody Wins." Schuur's precise vocal, pronounces each syllable in declamatory style; it's stretched by Gibson's guitar playing, accenting the ends of her lines and elongating them. One might imagine that Schuur used Ray Charles' Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music and Patsy Cline's later recordings as inspirations, but her revisioning of these legendary songs is uniquely her own, placing them in neither the jazz nor country camps, but firmly in the realm of classy American pop. ~ Thom Jurek

Please enable Javascript to view this page competely.