Carline Ray – Vocal Sides

June 9, 2013

When musicians reach a certain age, there is a tendency for some listeners – well, for me anyway – to approach their new work with caution. Maybe not a legitimate facet of music criticism, but quite often age matters. This is because the natural process of aging can have different effects, dependent on many things not least of which is the instrument played. Breathing and dexterity are obvious areas where the greater the age an artist reaches the greater the effect – often detrimental – upon their work. In the case of singers, breathing is obviously an issue and there is additionally a natural darkening of the vocal sound, something that is not always pleasing to the ear.

These thoughts were very much in mind when I learned of the impending release of a new album by Carline Ray. After all, when she recorded the songs on this album (all but one between 2008 and 2011) Carline Ray was in her eighties. Okay, okay, I know that talking about a lady’s age is not the thing to do. I excuse myself only because the singer and others associated with this album have made no secret of her advanced years. And I am very happy to declare that there is absolutely no reason for any secrecy. Far from it, news of Carline Ray – Vocal Sides should be trumpeted loud and long. Hearing it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Before looking at the music on this CD (released 10 June 2013) a few words about the singer.


(Sad to say, since this piece was written, Carline Ray has died. This was on 19 July 2013 – she was 88 years old.)


It is unnecessary to go into great detail; for one thing, Carline Ray’s musical history is well known, for another, it is touched upon in my 17 February 2013 page, Jazz Family – Take 2. There, I also have something to say about Ray’s late husband, Luis Russell, and their daughter, Catherine Russell, both of them similarly astonishingly gifted musicians. Briefly, then, Carline Ray was born in New York City in 1925 and in her mid-teens attended the Juilliard School of Music, studying composition and becoming skilled on guitar and double bass. On graduating from Juilliard in 1946, she joined the International Sweethearts Of Rhythm, playing guitar and singing. An after-effect of this experience was that Carline formed a trio with two fellow Sweethearts, also playing in various other bands, meanwhile continuing her musical studies, notably in voice. In 1956, she married popular bandleader Luis Russell with whom she had a daughter, Catherine. Playing and singing jazz, popular music, and classical music, Carline worked on through the years, making records and appearing live in New York and London and many other places.

World Village WV 468101

World Village
WV 468101


Which brings us almost up to date. A little while ago, Carline guested on her daughter’s album, Strictly Romancin’, not long after which Catherine, eager to help bring her mother’s remarkably enduring talent to wider notice, decided to produce this album, Vocal Sides, on which Carline Ray sings a selection of songs that should surely please many. The opener is a lovely interpretation of When I Grow Too Old To Dream, first taken slowly and expressively before slipping easily into a loping tempo; next comes a bebop anthem, Donna Lee, duly acknowledging the debt owed to Back Home Again In Indiana. Among many high points in her career, Carline Ray worked with Mary Lou Williams, playing on the recording session that resulted in the seminal Mary Lou’s Mass. Here, the singer presents two pieces from the Mass, Lazarus and Our Father. On two tracks, mother and daughter are heard in intimate duets, both artists responding to their love of music and for one another: The Land Beyond The River and Hold On. Added to the ten recent tracks is a 1961 recording Carline made with husband Luis of a song he had composed hoping that his then-associate, Louis Armstrong, would record it as a dedication to Louis’s wife (he never did). This is entitled, appropriately enough, Lucille.

Throughout, Carline sings with a rich, mature vocal sound, blending soulful dignity with deep understanding of the musical and lyrical value of the songs. Many aspects of her multi-faceted musical interests are evident: touches of gospel, blues, swing era styling, early bop notions and everywhere a profound and often moving reflection of the importance of jazz in her life. And the reverse is also true, Carline Ray has long been and remains important to jazz.


Carlcat Records

Carlcat Records

This thoroughly delightful album is available at most stores, including Amazon. There is more about Carline Ray on Jim Eigo’s Jazz Promo Services website.


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