My first introduction to Annie Lennox was as one half of 1980′s power duo Eurythmics on MTV, when the channel actually played music videos. I discovered her profound vocal ability with her solo album, Diva, back in 1992, and I just picked up her fifth solo effort, Nostalgia. The new album is a covers compilation of Lennox’s childhood favorites, from the soul, jazz and blues genres. Watch the YouTube interview of the album.
In my experience, a young voice singing the great American songbook falls flat. It’s more than the gravel in a voice that communicates the blues; it’s life experience, the beautiful and the painful, that bring truth to the lyrics. I’ve always said; “it’s impossible to lie while you sing, everyone listening knows it”. Annie has lived a life with varied experiences that bring truth to the lyrics of these classic songs. As this music shows: Lennox brings the poignant power of her distinctive voice to offer fresh perspectives to these mostly familiar songs.
Annie takes on Hoagy Carmichael’s Memphis In June with an emotive tone. Considering she turns 60, on Christmas Day, Annie’s voice shows no sign of faltering. Lennox’s take on the vintage hit, Georgia On My Mind, is also a Carmichael song made famous by Ray Charles, has an ethereal blues groove on the chorus, followed by soothing strings to lighten up the mood on the verses. The B3 organ adds an almost gospel vibe, possibly a homage to Mr. Charles. Lennox then performs a super-sassy version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ 1956 hit I Put A Spell On You as the lead single, playing with chord changes altering the placement of its shifts from major to minor and thus bringing new emphasis to the song’s expression of romantic desperation. George Gershwin’s Summertime was also beautified by Lennox’s talent. She sustains for an impossibly long time single notes rather than injecting as many melismatic flourishes as humanly possible (the technique of so many present-day female singers), and consequently extracting every ounce of emotion from it.
The jazz standard, I Cover The Waterfront, (I was unfamiliar with this tune prior to this album) is an amazing story of existential loneliness and vulnerability. Annie’s flair for jazz music is impeccably divine and you can hear her passion for the genre in her voice.
The most sobering song on the album is Strange Fruit written in 1937 as a poem, made famous by Billie Holiday in 1939. Lennox revives the track into the modern era and she manages to preserve the emotion of the piece, phrasing like a jazz trumpeter, with that distinct voice of hers. She covers Billie Holiday again on God Bless The Child; I melted as I listened to the melody that introduced me to Billie’s music. Jo Stafford’s version of the 1952 track You Belong To Me made it commercially successful, Annie’s cover is just as beautifully delivered. James Melton’s September In The Rain has been covered endlessly, but it certainly didn’t sound like an exhausted standard when Annie took the reigns, its gracefulness resonates throughout from the initial note. In, I Can Dream, Can’t I?, originally written by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal, Lennox nails the track’s optimism with her smooth rendition. The Nearness Of You was made famous in the 1938 film “Romance In The Dark”, Lennox revives the song’s enchanting vibe and delivers a cover worthy of gracing even today’s theatrical works; her take on Mood Indigo is pure magic amongst the rest of these gems.
Nostalgia gave Annie Lennox the chance to open up one of the many windows into her influential life to give fans and admirers alike a glimpse of what inspired her musically. The compilation was delivered beautifully and masterfully; though the tracks have aged, Lennox breathed some life into them once more with her powerhouse of a voice, another quality that is seemingly ageless. It’s a wonderful notion for an artist of this or a previous era to release a collection of classics such as what is featured on Nostalgia, it opens up today’s generation to the origins of music from the jazz/blue/soul genres with class. Yet another desirable hit from the legend that is Annie Lennox.