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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Purring Records PURRCD 002




1. How Little We Know
2. You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To
3. If I Should Lose You
4. Munchhausen (Liar, Liar)
5. The Perfect Dress
6. Hymne à l'amour
7. To a Little Radio
8. Strange (Libertango)
9. On the Street Where You Live
10. Old Devil Moon
11. Mean to Me
12. Ballad of the Sad Young Men
Ruthie Culver - Vocals
Dan Hewson - Piano, Fender Rhodes (tracks 1-4, 7-12)
David Oliver - Piano, Fender Rhodes (tracks 5, 6)
Jonny Gee - Double bass
Andrea Trillo - Drums (tracks 1-4, 7-12)
Corrina Silvester - Drums, (tracks 5, 6)
Mick Foster - Soprano sax (track 3)
Roberto Pia - Timbales, congas (track 5)
Ian Marcus - Tenor sax, flute (track 5)
Fulvio Sigurta - Trumpet, flugelhorn (tracks 8, 9, 11)

I have probably already made it clear that, in a world crammed with women who call themselves jazz singers, newcomers need to have something distinctive to stand out from the crowd - not forgetting that they also need to sing in tune.

So what is special about Ruthie Culver? She can sing in French (Hymne à l'amour) and German (To a Little Radio). And she doesn't just sing love-songs: her repertoire also includes songs with political themes, such as sweated labour in The Perfect Dress and anti-war in Munchhausen (Liar, Liar). Even the CD sleeve shows that she has environmental concerns, as it is "made from at least 95% recycled fibre" and "printed using vegetable inks and water-based varnish", besides being "recorded in Europe's first solar-powered recording studio". All this suggests a thoughtful, concerned person, although I could have done without Ruthie's pretentiousness in the sleeve-note (""I never planned to be a singer. I never planned to develop a blooming social conscience. I just arrived at a place where I could step off the treadmill, tai-chi-slow").

Nonetheless I have doubts about this debut album. Perhaps the clue to my misgivings lies in that confession "I never planned to be a singer". Ruthie has a small voice which seems to lack power, and her pitching tends to wander, especially in fast numbers. When she departs from the melody, it sounds as if she is temporarily lost rather than improvising. There's no doubting her sincerity but somehow she fails to put across the songs with sufficient drive. And I tend to distrust her when she (twice) changes the lyrics in On the Street Where You Live to "near me" (instead of "near"), this ruining the rhyme with "appear".

She is well supported by some fine musicians, whose proficiency sometimes threatens to show up Ruthie's slight deficiencies. The two saxophonists contribute admirable solos; the two pianists provide reliable backing; and Roberto Pia's percussion peps up The Perfect Dress. Italian trumpeter Fulvio Sigurta adds to the appeal of the three tracks he is on.

The publicity describes Ruthie Culver as a "jazz vocalist" but several numbers here are cabaret songs rather than jazz pieces. They are none the worse for that, but potential buyers should know what they are getting. They are getting an album of well-varied material, very competently performed but featuring a singer who cannot (at least, yet) compare with any of the great jazz vocalists.

Tony Augarde


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