courtesy of Play MPE
A little over a month ago, Evosound released the latest album of Canadian vocalist Chantal Chamberland. The advance material I received described Temptation as the result of “a rigorous search for new and oft-unconventional material.” I am not sure whether or not “I Put a Spell on You” and “I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl” count as “unconventional” (oft or otherwise); but I am willing to grant that I do not encounter them very often.
One of the reasons is that these are songs that have more to do with the singer than with what is being sung. “I Put a Spell on You” was the product of Screamin' Jay Hawkins. It was all the rage at my campus radio station and would regularly get aired during the weekend request programs. However, its popularity had more to do with Hawkins’ outrageous vocalizing, particularly when “screamin’” out “I don’t care if you don’t want me, I’m yours!” For a long time I felt it was sacrilegious for anyone else to try to sing this song; but Nina Simone boldly went were angels would fear to tread. Her delivery had almost none of the Hawkins style, but it turned out to be compelling in just about every other way.
Ironically, Simone also put her own spin on another song that I felt was “owned” by its creator. “Need a Little Sugar in my Bowl” is one of the songs that Bessie Smith recorded for Columbia, accompanied only by Clarence Williams on piano. Williams wrote the song in conjunction with Tim Brymn and Danny C. Small. Simone picked it up for her Nina Simone Sings the Blues album, reworking it as “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl;” and, again, her version is right up there beside Smith’s.
I single out these two songs because they are bold choices. Sadly, there is little boldness in Chamberland’s treatment. Indeed, over the course of the entire album, the selections all come off as disappointingly bland.
I also have to confess annoyance with an advance team that comes up with a phrase like “stellar accompaniment of her carefully chosen cast of A-list players” and never bothers to identify those players. Perhaps they preferred to remain anonymous. The bland qualities of the vocal work seem to have invaded the instrumental accompaniment as well.