Still, Johnson is a natural singer with a casual style and a broad range, effortlessly accessed as required. In addition, she applies her own imagination and feel for the music to capture the essence of a song. In some cases, she considers a song not through rose-colored glasses, but form a uniquely personal perspective. Moreover, it seems that she doesn’t cover a song unless she has a need to express her own attitude toward it. On the one hand, Johnson writes her own lyrics to append Marilyn and Alan Bergman’s "Where Do You Start" with "From Here" as if her poem were the verse before the chorus: "These days / I spend extra time / looking for higher ground. / Inspiration found / in the breath of a flower." The poem’s quest leading into the song’s questions. Kelley brings together separate song concepts in medley again when she combines Lerner and Lowe’s "Wouldn’t It Be Loverly" with Abbey Lincoln’s "Living Room," the spaciousness of a "room" being the governing thought. Still, the medley is a study in, a celebration of, contrasts. "Wouldn’t It Be Loverly" eases its way into the listener’s consciousness with lots of space after each phrase and bassist Paul Gabrielson’s insouciant connecting vamp. Then, the group loses the slow saunter for a rubato section of crashing cymbals, wordless vocalizing and impressionistic piano chords before Kelley brings out her jazz chops, digging into "Living Room" with infectious swing and a swoop and half-note waver akin to Sheila Jordan’s.
Home, frankly, is full of delights, and it is obvious that much thought and care have been applied to its production, from the imaginative arrangements to the selection of appropriate songs to the involvement of like-minded musicians to Johnson’s immersion into her music, evident from the easy-to-miss details that she inserts. Hers is a voice that brings out the wit, intelligence and emotion of a song without ostentatiousness, without imitation, but rather merely through the joy of singing. "Rose Colored Glasses" starts with a rhythm-section rumble, allowing Johnson to ooo and oooh above it before she joins with the words, before the accompaniment stops for her to assert "Why do I feel so spry? / Don’t wink your eye." The point is that Johnson doesn’t avoid conventional arrangement as much as she feels the music in a different way, teasing the listener at the end of the first chorus by extending the "eee" of "rosy" and the final "now," refusing to resolve the chord until shouts "now," as if a command for Geoffrey Keezer’s solo that follows.
She sings Rodgers and Hammerstein’s "A Lovely Night" at first as a duo with Hansen, allowing her the freedom to slow and then accelerate and swerve from singing to spoken word in cadence as the mood strikes her before taking off in a faster tempo. Particularly effective is her use of voice to express emotion or motion. "Darling I love you" emerges deeply and sultily. Then the repeat of the second chorus, packed with delights, includes her octave upsweep on "away you fly," her confiding that "all the nights you’ll dream of this" and finally the resolution of "Lovely" at the top of her range before Hansen’s staccato hammering of single notes. Johnson has collaborated with trumpeter Ingrid Jensen in several instances, most notably on Jensen’s composition, the insouciantly loping "For an Hour," for which Johnson wrote the lyrics about taking time out to enjoy life. In this case, Jay Thomas provides the trumet solo instead however. In addition, Johnson, Jensen and drummer Jon Wikan collaborated on the arrangement of "Moon River," at first sung conventionally and dreamily at a slow pace with horn accompaniment. Then, it moves into a unison written alteration of melody with trumpet and wordless voice, as if Johnson were an additional instrument, an unexpected development.
But then, Kelley Johnson’s Home is full of little pleasures, including her version of Abbey Lincoln’s "Should’ve Been," which alternates between three-four expression of regret and quited celebration of acceptance. Though Johnson appears to be content to enjoy domesticity in Seattle, as suggested by the title of her CD, the excellence of her most recent album deserves close listening and attention from enthusiasts of jazz vocalists.