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Review by Russ Tarby, Syracuse New Times
In her liner notes, singer Diana Leigh exclaims, “Swing is King!” She proves herself a loyal and loving subject as Leigh — and her band Crazy Rhythm — affirm the music’s majesty throughout their CD Crazy 8 (independent). Leigh’s crystalline voice sparkles on 1920s show tunes such as the sprightly “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love with Me” and the wistful “I’ll Always Be In Love With You.”
Those two tunes, which open the eight-track disc, demonstrate Leigh’s willingness to unearth long-buried gems, shine ’em up and swing ’em once again. “I Can’t Believe,” introduced in 1927 as part of the Gay Paree revue and popularized by Roger Wolfe Kahn’s Orchestra, was revived in 1953 by the Ames Brothers. The slower-tempoed “I’ll Always Be In Love With You,” on the other hand, was first performed by vocalist Morton Downey in an early talkie film, Syncopation (1929), before being covered on record by Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians.
Leigh and her band deserve as much credit for their repertoire research as for their estimable performance skills. Pianist John Hyde shares the solo spots with guitarist Ira Kamp, and each manage to succinctly state their case with flair and finesse, while never failing to frame Leigh’s vocals. Likewise, the rhythm section – acoustic bassist Brian Williams and drummer Will Hanson – also understand their supporting roles, and play them well, religiously maintaining those propulsive swing rhythms.
Occasionally, the rhythm makers embellish a tune or two: Hanson’s cymbals accent many of the song’s intros, while – on the slower tempos especially – Williams often fingers an invigorating walking bass line on his upright.
But Diana Leigh’s voice reigns supreme on Crazy 8. Shining like a diamond strong enough to cut glass, her timbre and pitch remain perfectly pleasing on tunes ranging from the blues of “Come Into My Arms” to the minor key ministrations of “Comes Love.” Leigh rarely strays from her straightforward phrasing, but when she does, it’s a kick, as with the relaxed “Too Lazy” and the ribald request “Rock Me To Sleep.”
A hearty “Mr. Five By Five” provides some mid-tempo comic relief, while the most familiar tune on the disc, “House Of Blue Lights,” swings like mad for a mere minute-and-57-seconds. Leigh switches on “Blue Light” with a cleverly scatted introduction, then brightly delivers the lyrics, while Kamp’s boogie-woogie guitar lines radiate throughout.
Overall, Leigh’s reach never exceeds her grasp as her often brilliant intonation and sometimes playful phrasing satisfies the demands of each song. Occasionally, she’ll take it a step further, allowing her soaring soprano to devolve into a suggestive growl, but otherwise she plays it straight.