Sound Advice Reviews
The Top Ten Vocal Albums of 2015

Fresh Sound Records
Not previously reviewed


She started working as a singer sixty years ago, as a teenager, and still sounds silky and sweet. Sue Raney has a particularly lovely voice that I could listen to for hours on end with ease. Maybe because she sings with such ease and grace that it is never wearing or wearying. She graces anything she chooses to sing and beams positive vibes. Her approach to lyrics can be conversational without sacrificing the melodic line. I've been collecting her records for years and am so glad she is still recording at such a high level as well as performing live. (After many years, the California-based songbird appeared in New York City just a few years ago.) Her 2015 release, Late in Life, has the theme of romance that comes in mature years and is all the more appreciated and understood. The concept works! The sincerity and lived-in wisdom radiate and never cloy.

Unaffected approaches to logical choices like the classic"The Second Time Around" (Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn) are spot on. They are simple but effective in the phrasing and styling. When she sings that a love after the first blush(es) of youth recede and a relationship can be "more comfortable ... like a friendly home the second time you call," it's the coziest, most lived-in realization one can imagine feeling. And when she croons of that love she's so grateful for and describes it as "this miracle we found," Cahn's edging to wrapping up the lyric with this line isn't just a convenient rhyme for the title repeated at the very conclusion. It sounds fully thought and felt in the moment. Another Cahn lyric, "You Taught My Heart to Sing" (music: McCoy Tyner) feels equally in her comfort zone, even though it's more on the poetic, arty side. And sing she does, taking full advantage of an interlude of wordless vocalizing like a free-flying, free-spirited nightingale. The legato runs are exquisite with no sense of force or strain.

What a terrific idea to take Mel Brooks' "'Til Him" from The Producers and make it a tender, low-key romantic song. Breathy and dewy-fresh, rather than tongue-in-cheek grand, it's a small, sweet moment here that can just make you melt. Of course, there's no shortage of affection expressed exultantly in these choices. But it never becomes sappy or repetitive, despite consisting of 14 titles (two combined in a medley, with the dreamy—literally speaking—standards "My Ideal" and "Long Ago and Far Away" sharing the stage as appropriate partners about fantasy lovers being met in reality—or not). Sue knows how to eschew the pessimistic part of "My Ideal" by sliding into the blissful dream-come-true happy ending delineated in the latter.

A number written by Adryan Russ and Shelly Markham gives Late in Life its title—and its musical director/pianist, as Markham's pitching the piece to the singer led to her not just assenting to take it on, but to take him on for the whole album project. His arrangements are generally graceful and unobtrusive, giving her space and a warm cushion of sound. Only one might seem too much off the by-then expected pillow cushion; that may be because it's "Something New in My Life" and they wanted to do "something new" with it. The brighter, brisker approach, I think, makes the lyric feel less rhapsodic than its potential can be in other versions I've heard. It's one of the two selections about finding love at a later stage that have lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, whose catalogue Miss Raney dedicated a full album to some time ago. The other is the more frequently recorded "On My Way to You" and is mature and measured; both have melodies by Michel Legrand.

Fans and newcomers to Sue Raney will note that she has what we might call a trick, a trademark, or an ace in the hole. She has a remarkably high upper range that can suddenly soar or slide up to. It's stunningly gorgeous. I suppose some may think she overdoes it, but it is so sensational and thrilling that I only want more and more of it. Happily, it typically is positioned in a way that is a climax, enhancing the already established mood and is like an explosion of joy, rather than upstaging the lyric or seeming just gratuitous or showing-off. On her jazzier discs, she exhibits her range more. In any case, she is sublime.

And, lest you think the album concept of finding love Late in Life is just a random whim to have a theme, the vocalist notes in her comments that it's because this reflects her own experience. She met her husband, Carmen Fanzone, retired professional baseball player who turned to playing brass instruments, "later in life." Julie Andrews is quoted as describing the vocalist this way: "As for Ms. Raney—well, she's a marvel". She remains ravishing and quite the marvel here. Mrs. Fanzone's fan zone can only become bigger with this latest addition to an impressive body of work.
- Rob Lester