Somewhere between Jon Hendricks and Mark Murphy is former rock singer turned crooner Keith England. Atlanta born and Florida raised, England has recorded and toured with the Allman Brothers, both as a background and lead singer. Later, after a move to California, England worked with Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Greg Kihn Band and Ronnie Montrose. Further work included singing on the Baz Luhrmann film "Moulin Rouge."
For England’s jazz CD debut pianist Mike Melvoin, who has worked with Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee and Barbra Streisand, to name only three, takes the chair as pianist and producer to guide the former rocker through a set of 14 different songs. Helping out in the rhythm section are the super-accomplished bassist Tony Dumas and drummer Ralph Penland. Together the four tackle some formidable territory, with mixed results.
England sounds most at home on the Melvoin penned tunes. For example, on "Whatever My Bianca Wants" and "You Know" England digs into the lyric in a strong, take no prisoners manner. He has a real affinity for these songs that comes through with bravura performances. Whether it’s because of his friendship with Melvoin or some intangible, England absolutely brings forth a torrent of marvelous emotion on these songs. Of note is England’s short scat at the end of "Whatever." It’s obvious he’s willing to take chances instead of playing it safe.
As a pianist Melvoin is as expected, incredible. His solo on "Living Without You" is tasteful and technically thrilling, and his chords behind the lyric of "Embraceable You" goes beyond the pale of so many other pianists into the realm of real style.
England has a totally unique voice. You can tell he’s done some rock screaming, but that has only seasoned the voice, not ruined it. At times he brings forth a breathiness that works to his advantage, as on "At Last Now." It’s not the traditional type of jazz voice, and it takes a bit to warm up to it, but that doesn’t distract from the enjoyment.
A few of the tunes don’t quite find a home, but it’s hard to hit it big on every tune. The Miles Davis penned "All Blues" is stuck between styles, never settling in, and "I Left My Heart In San Francisco" doesn’t really fit England’s style. None-the-less, this is an auspicious beginning.