Would that everyone could with as much class.
I’m sure that Wilson wouldn’t mind my saying that. She says as much through the songs on her latest album with MCG Jazz, Turned to Blue.
After more than fifty years of a professional singing career during which she has influenced multitudes, including the likes of Regina Belle and Anita Baker, Wilson is comfortable with the life she is living. That was evident in the liner notes of her last MCG Jazz CD, A Nancy Wilson Christmas, which included photographs of Wilson with her grandchildren. The liner notes of Turned to Blue show a different Nancy Wilson one who looks 30 years younger with flawless skin and cropped flowing hair. Even so, she celebrates her decades of experiences with ironic songs like "Knitting Class," "Old Folks," "I Don’t Remember Ever Growing Up," or "These Golden Years."
Nominally, Turned to Blue concerns different stories about love: "Be My Love," "Take Love Easy," "Taking a Chance on Love," et cetera. But the lyrics that leave the indelible impressions are the witty ones on songs introduced on Turned to Blue. For example, "Yesterday I went to knitting class. / What a gas!"
Beyond the thematic connection among the songs, though, Wilson’s singing sounds as affecting and stylistically distinctive as ever. Obviously, some singers lose their freshness and range after a generation or two of singing. Then, there are singers like Nancy Wilson or Tony Bennett who remain as vital in their maturity as they were in their youth. Literally, Wilson’s singing on "This Is All I Ask" is as appealing as it was on her early albums. Her unexpected growl on "Taking a Chance on Love" contains the vigor that makes the performance another one of her memorable ones an unexpected bonus from Turned to Blue when one considers the breadth of her work and her countless classic performances from "Guess Who I Saw Today" to "Little Girl Blue," from "Hello Young Lovers," to "Never Will I Marry."
Miss Wilson’s graciousness extends to the musicians with whom she records on Turned to Blue. Each of the tracks includes guest musicians, some of them immortal artists from her generation like Hubert Laws or Billy Taylor; some associated with her working group, like Llew Matthews; and others associated with Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild All Star Big Band like Andy Snitzer. And so, along with hearing the legendary Wilson in top form and she is in top form! we can hear the too seldom heard but legendary Jimmy Heath on "Knitting Class" or the legendary James Moody on "Taking a Chance on Love." Not to mention invigorating solos by, say, Andy Narrell or Bob Mintzer.
Wilson’s association with the Manchester Craftmen’s Guild involves generosity of spirit as well, as the proceeds from MCG’s initiatives help benefit youth educational activities in Pittsburgh. And so, the tracks recorded at the MCG’s theater involve the All Star Big Band backing her up, reminiscent of some of her classic albums with the Billy May Orchestra in the 1960’s. And sure enough, each of those tracks highlights a spirited solo, Sean Jones’s for instance on "Take Love Easy."
When Nancy Wilson was young, she had the maturity to tell a rueful story through songs like "Miss Otis Regrets." And now that Wilson has matured, she still possesses the youthful enthusiasm to suggest a double meaning "Taking a Chance on Love": that of the young girl helplessly taking another chance, and that of the adult who disregards misgivings. How many other singers could add that dimension to the song?
The song created from Maya Angelou’s poem, "Turned to Blue," provides the visual theme, not to mention the name, for Wilson’s latest album, as it contains the story-telling quality that Wilson values in the songs she records. But "I Don’t Remember Ever Growing Up" describes the attitude of the CD, Wilson’s best in years, as each of her recent albums is better than the last. Nancy Wilson’s first sung impression is the one that remains throughout the CD after after it has ended: "As I approach the prime of my life / I find that I have the time of my life.... / As long as there’s a song to sing / And I will stay younger than spring."