Photo: Alan Mercer
Though best known for her 1970 R&B crossover smash hit ‘Band of Gold,’ Freda Payne has always first and foremost been a jazz singer, dating back to The Jimmy Wilkins Big Band at age 14. Her debut album, ‘After The Lights Go Down Low And Much More!!!’ on Impulse!, in 1963 was arranged by Manny Albam, while a more pop-oriented follow-up entitled ‘How Do You Say I Don’t Love You Anymore’ on MGM in 1966 was helmed by saxophonist/arranger Benny Golson. Freda performed at the Apollo Theater in Harlem alongside Billy Eckstine, backed by Quincy Jones and His Orchestra, comedian Redd Foxx and the dance team Coles & Atkins. She also graced the stage with Duke Ellington for two nights in Pittsburgh, after which he composed ‘Blue Piano’ just for her. Freda Payne’s training and experience render her a rare vocal artist who is stylistically beyond category.
With her honey voice, a touch of sass, legendary and iconic beauty, and impressive vocal control, Freda returns to the recording studio with a big-band recording from Mack Records on its Artistry Music imprint. Working with a big band complete with strings and arrangements by Grammy Award winner Bill Cunliffe, Freda sings the heart out of 14 songs, ranging from classic standards to a half dozen original pieces from the pen of Gretchen Valade and Tom Robinson. The original tunes hold up next to the standards quite well. The arrangements of brass and horns work together with the violins, violas, cellos, and a guitar, vibraphone, and harp.
Photo: Raj Naik
We begin the journey with Cole Porters ‘Come Back To Me Love,’ a swinging, scatting, on fire version of Cole Porter’s ‘You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.’ I feel like I’m in a nightclub listening to Freda sing LIVE on stage during this number. It’s so fresh and Freda’s voice shines. The second cut, Kenny Rankin’s ‘Haven’t We Met’ blends seamlessly into the mix. Next we have four of the six original numbers including the wistful and romantic ‘Lately’ and the title track, with its yearning, longing quality. These songs sound like they were written especially for Freda and she sings them all with passion. ‘Whatever Happened To Me’ and ‘You Don’t Know’ complete the foursome.
Then we arrive at the gorgeous Buddy Johnson standard, ‘Save Your Love For Me’ best known by Nancy Wilson. Freda sounds absolutely sumptuous singing lyrics like ‘Have mercy on a fool like me, I'm so unwise but still I plead, darling please… save you love for me.’ Next comes the 1945 Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne poignant classic ‘Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry.’ Once again Freda seems like she was born to sing these lyrics, so full of emotion. We can add Freda’s version to the list of notable recordings of this song.
Alan and Marilyn Bergman wrote English lyrics for ‘The Island’ to the Brazilian music of Ivan Lins. Lush, romantic and full of Latin rhythms, the setting perfectly showcases Freda’s versatility as a vocalist. This cut is definitely an album highlight.
The next two cuts are the final original songs , ‘I Should Have Told Him’ and ‘I Just Have To Know.’ The last three numbers are all standards that most everyone knows. ‘Midnight Sun’ was originally an instrumental composed by Lionel Hampton and Sonny Burke in 1947 until Johnny Mercer wrote the words to the song. Most of us know the version by Ella Fitzgerald which suits Freda to a tee since she spent the last several years singing a tribute to Ella in concert. ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most’ from 1955 is an epic selection. Freda’s version is full of plaintive emotion and this recording is another highlight from this album. The album closes with a rollicking version of Lou Rawls ‘I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water.’ Perhaps Freda should consider a blues album next. She definitely has the vocal chops.
I have been listening to the music of Freda Payne for over forty years and she has never sounded better than she does right now…singing jazz. I hope this album spawns the beginning of a recording renaissance for her. Both she and her audience deserve that. ‘Come Back To Me Love’ is a GREAT first outing for the new-era ‘Freda.’
To learn more about this album or to purchase it please click here http://www.mackavenue.com/artists/detail/freda_payne