Jazz singer and pianist Diane Schuur’s career has spanned 30 years and has included two Grammys, collaborations with jazz greats from the Count Basie Orchestra to B.B. King and performances at some of New York’s most famous and prestigious venues. However it is only now that Schuur has been able to complete a project she’s been thinking about for most of her career, for it was country—not jazz—that first inspired her to sing as a child.
Schuur’s voice is, to put it very mildly, beautiful. She has a vocal range that can deliver low, grumbly laments and high, crooning wails with equal effectiveness, and wonderful vibrato. Schuur’s latest album, The Gathering puts all those skills to good use. Her first venture since 2008, the album features arrangements of ten classic country tunes and includes special guests from all parts of the musical community, including Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Mark Knopfler, Larry Carlton and Kirk Whalum.
Being country, the songs deal almost exclusively with love lost and found, break-ups, cheating, and romantic confusion, populated by lyrics so angst-filled that most blues musicians would blush at them. Schuur sings about all of these emotions through a voice tinged with sadness, yet somehow still hopeful. Maybe Schuur has experienced all these things, and maybe she hasn’t, but it hardly matters—her singing is so heartfelt and gut-wrenching that you believe every word of it regardless.
With a barely-there twang in her voice, Schuur remains faithful to the substance of the songs, and yet it still feels like she is singing jazz standards, not country standards. This album is not fashioned after the atonal, experimental jazz of the ’70s and ’80s. No, this is the slow, smooth jazz of your parents’ (or perhaps grandparents’) era, a Sinatra-at-the-Sands vibe, an easygoing, storytelling kind of music.
With few variations in tempo or subject change from song to song, it’s possible to become bored with the album if it’s played in heavy rotation. But musically, the album will stand the long test of time. There are a couple of very good solos in “Healing Hands Of Time,” and some interesting syncope rhythms on “Today I Started Loving You Again,” and for the most part the arrangements remain simple, tasteful, and classic. The Gathering is a treat for anyone who’s a fan of classic, elegant jazz (or country, or pianists). If anything, it’s a shame Schuur didn’t do this ten years ago.