With a Song in My Heart - Gill Manly - Atlanta Audio Society
For the benefit of us Yanks, this British vocalist's given name is pronounced "Jill" as in Jillian, not "Gil" as in Gilbert. For the singer is definitely a lady, and in fact her seamless vocal artistry, ranging from a breathless girlish whisper to a boldly swinging full voice, will inevitably remind listeners on this side of the pond of none other than Ella Fitzgerald, on whose work Manly offers her own reflections. It's no coincidence the album is populated with jazz standards like Midnight Sun, Daydream, Night in Tunisia, Taxi Driver/Love for Sale, Take Love Easy, and Lush Life that have long been associated with Ella. Manly's interpretations have a dual appeal in that they pay eloquent tribute to the great American singer in a personal, fresh, and highly accessible style that is uniquely her own.
In songs like Lush Life, Where or When, and Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most, Gill combines nuanced interpretations with the absolute vocal clarity they require. In the latter, the personal intensity and the sensational lilt she gives the refrain really makes its memorable. She doesn't take as familiar a standard as September Song for granted, either, bringing out the pain in the lyric beginning "It's a long, long time / from May to December" in a subtly understated way that makes it all the more poignant.
Her take on the Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn favorite Sittin' and a-Rockin' manages to be be almost more pure fun than the law should allow and faintly melancholy at the same time. And for me, she has done the seemingly impossible task of disassociating the album's thrice-familiar title song With a Song in My Heart from all Helen Morgan connotations. Here she uses the warmth of her jazz artistry to bring out the intimacy in the passage "When the music swells, I'm touching your hand. It tells me that you're standing near, and...." which occurs as a quiet reverie before returning to the melody in the next stanza and taking it big. Simple, yes, but you have to have the instinct for it.
Credit the support Gill Manly receives from the superb trio of Simon Wallace, piano; Mark Hodgson, double bass; and Ralph Salmins, drums. They show us all the unobtrusive ways a group can highlight a great singer. Longtime associate Mark Murphy adds his presence to a memorable duet with Gill in the concluding number I Keep Going Back to Joe's, which rounds off the program very nicely. And Guy Barker, a name we've often had occasion to cite in reviews of British jazz, takes a sensational melismatic riff in Night in Tunisia to compliment Gill's scintillating scats. Look for him adding his distinguished timbres to Manly's vocal artistry in Midnight Sun, Robbins' Nest and elsewhere throughout the program. In fact, there isn't a clinker in any of the 13 tracks on this album: all are winners, slow ballads as well as swinging numbers. How often does that happen?
With a Song in My Heart is apparently Gill's first album since 1996 and marks a comeback for the singer, who had been in retirement since the end of the 90's (Considering the history of the world since then, it was a good time to "take five.") If it takes this artist 13 years to get it as absolutely right as she does with this album, let's hope we're all around in 2022!