On Tuesday, May 21, 2013, vocalist and songwriter Jacqui Naylor released her ninth recording, Dead Divas Society. The 15-track disc will be issued by the artist’s Ruby Star Records label (RSR-008) and distributed nationwide through eOne. The album was recorded live at the historic Coast Recorders in San Francisco in front of a studio audience.
The one hundred and fifty fans were not new to Naylor’s eclectic song choices and were encouraged to submit selections from their own dearly departed dead diva drawer several months earlier. Ultimately, the recording pays tribute to the singers and songwriters who influenced Naylor and includes standards like Mercer and Carmichael’s “Skylark,” sung for Ella Fitzgerald, Legrand and Bergman’s “The Windmills of Your Mind” for Dusty Springfield, and Schwandt and Kahn’s “Dream A Little Dream of Me” for Cass Elliot. These songs sit comfortably next to singer-songwriter pop classics like “Back To Black,” sung for Amy Winehouse, “Love of My Life” for Freddie Mercury and “Never Too Much” for Luther Vandross. All showcase Naylor’s unique instrument, a smoky yet honeyed tone, with a wide vocal range that stands up to the recording’s fresh arrangements.
Naylor and her band are masters of bringing genres from different generations together in a way that sounds organic. Their signature technique of arranging that Naylor christened “Acoustic Smashing” has her singing the melody and lyrics of a jazz standard while the band plays a pop classic or vice versa. On Dead Divas Society, Bricusse and Newley’s “Feelin’ Good” is sung for Nina Simone over the reggae classic of Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff.”
Naylor never sticks to the obvious choices and includes lesser known gems like Haymes and Clarke’s “They Say It’s Spring” sung for Blossom Dearie, Mandel and Bergman’s “Where Do You Start?” for Shirley Horn, Adamson and McHugh’s “It’s A Most Unusual Day” for June Christy, and Brown and Allen’s “Gravy Waltz” for Sarah Vaughan. Even her song selection for Billie Holiday is refreshing, choosing Russell and Sigman’s “Crazy He Calls Me” over Lady Day’s better-known classics.
“I did a lot of listening for this recording so that I could honor the performers who most influenced my music by selecting songs that exemplify what I learned from them,” says Naylor. Indicative, the artist includes a song co-written by Peggy Lee, “It’s A Good Day” as well as her signature version of the Mercer and Phillippe-Gerard ballad, “When The World Was Young.” And for Etta James, Naylor includes Hunt’s “Fool That I Am,” which James recorded multiple times in different styles.
Naylor attributes much of her success as a singer and songwriter to her tightly-knit band of almost a decade, including Art Khu on piano, organ and guitar, Jon Evans on bass and Josh Jones on drums. Khu and Jones are credited with all of the arrangements on the recording and the album was mixed at Evans Brick Hill studio in Cape Cod.