Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles music’

If you put on Ann Kelly’s latest CD, “Promises,” close your eyes and imagine what the owner of this rich, sultry voice looks like, your mind will probably conjure up a hi-res image of Kelly by the time you reach the first chorus.

Keep listening and the slinky horn lines, jazzy piano riffs and bluesy guitar under the voice will likely morph your Kelly mind-picture into something closely resembling the CD’s cover art – right down to her trench coat, puckered lips and the urban setting.Promises_front_cover[1]

Now you’re ready to experience the album as the multimedia event nature intended.

“Promises” is an album of mood music. It’s difficult to put the Kelly mood into words, exactly, but I know it has a lot to do with dry martinis, French perfume, Aston Martins and parties at Hef’s. With Kelly’s sensuous and often fearlessly emotive vocals setting the tone, “Promises” is mood music for grown-ups: urbane, sexy and expertly made.

The six-song, Mark Ross-produced EP opens with the upbeat “These are the Good Times.” Tight, infectious horn lines, a standout solo by guitarist Tim Pierce and Kelly’s light and confident delivery let you know you’re about to spend time with pros.

“Bluest Blue,” Kelly’s “Dear John” to a doomed affair, is the record’s hardest rocking track, featuring a credible, emotional read by Kelly, fiery leads by Pierce and some extremely ballsy and clever horn lines.

The up-tempo shuffle, “Move on Over,” delivers some of the strongest performances — vocal and instrumental — and some of the best lyrical turns on the CD. The song opens with Kelly’s scornful dissection of a gold-digger on the prowl: “…the pretty little parasite is looking for a host,” then passionately warns the host-to-be away from the vixen with …“better beware, there’s perfume in the air.” Kelly’s mix of worldly swagger, impish fun and rhythmic instinct nails this one.

Brandon Fields’ soaring tenor sax solo, Ross’ syncopated piano, playfully inventive horns and top-flight backing vocals by Janis Liebhart and Lynn Fanelli all conspire to make “Move on Over” as fun as it is musically rewarding.Promises__back_cover

Come to think of it, there is a refreshingly playful spark running through this entire album and everyone involved is obviously in on the grin.

Case in point: Lee Thornburg’s wah-wah trumpet intro (over scratchy needle-on-vinyl effect, no less) on “I’m Your Friend,” is not only a good example of the album’s wit, but is also one of the best bits of flutter-tonguing horn pathos ever blown. When Nick Lane’s trombone joins Thornburg later in the tune for a kind of mano a mano, New Orleans-style horn-orama, its fun is exceeded only by its masterful playing.

In “…Friend,” Kelly tries to extract commitment from a tentative lover with a whispered growl that is so damned sexy, you can’t believe she has to make her case at all. “You love me when it’s easy, when the slipper fits…”, sighs Kelly, then turns up the heat with “…I long for you to comfort me.” If this doesn’t work on the guy, I’m afraid shock therapy is the only answer.

On the slow bluesy title track, “Promises,” Ross’ dramatic string arrangement provides the perfect environment for Kelly’s impassioned vocal and Pierce’s dynamic and thoughtful guitar work throughout.

Which brings us to the final cut – the exquisite and eclectic “If You Only Knew Me.” It’s funny, just the other day I was saying to the wife, “How come nobody ever makes records with a reggae beat, a Montmartre accordion and a Duane Eddy guitar, featuring a Marlene Dietrich-ish vocal in English and French anymore?”

In this medium/slow, incredibly infectious loper, Ross has managed to combine these disparate instrumental elements in a way that feels so natural and easy you have to remind yourself you’re in uncharted territory. As interesting and inspired as this track is, though, it is Kelly’s performance that will stay with you.

One part “Three-Penny Opera,” two parts Piaf-Dietrich love child, this is Kelly’s most evocative read on the album. Purring such lines as “…now we begin the sweet taste of sin” and “…your foolish heart will know that I play for keeps,” in between the tastiest accordion and soprano sax lines this side of La Rive Gauche – well, let’s just say Kelly had me at bonjour.

Kelly’s uninhibited vocal approach, Mark Ross’ crisp production and innovative-yet-catchy arrangements plus ace work by some of the best musicians and singers in Los Angeles have demonstrated once again that having fun and making good music needn’t be mutually exclusive endeavors.

“Promises,” L.A.-based Ann Kelly’s sophomore effort, has just the right blend of fun, drama and musical expertise to recommend it as a highly enjoyable listen.

For samples of “Promises,” visit

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From the first few bars of Ann Kelly’s new EP, Petals and Thorns, you know you’re dealing with professionals here. This slick, six-song package features Kelly’s expressive vocals supported by top-flight playing from a group of L.A. studio stalwarts. All in all, this pop-jazz/adult-contemporary outing is a testament to the value of musicos who know what the hell they’re doing.

The CD’s lyrical themes of love lost, love soon to be lost, lost love’s revenge and loneliness are confidently and credibly handled by Kelly, whose voice and phrasing bring to mind a deeper Diana Krall. From her dusky, blue-smoke delivery of the bluesy “She Dances Alone,” to the I’m-wise-to-you-buster vibe of “Who do You Think You’re Foolin’?” to the snarky irony of the infectious, up-tempo “It Must be Good to be King,” Kelly’s performances strike the right notes of assertiveness, playfulness and hurt — a femme fatale undermined by a vulnerable heart.

My favorite cut, the Exotica-tinged “Between the Lines,” is Kelly and band at their mood-setting best. Kelly’s laid-back phrasing and honest, intimate delivery gives the listener a near-voyeuristic glimpse into a doomed affair. Perhaps, more than on any other cut, this mid-tempo gem is where the players demonstrate their top-notch recording chops. In lesser hands, two guitars, a tenor sax and keyboard all trying to lend color could easily sound like an explosion at a pawnshop. But here, guitarists Tim Pierce’s and Tim Kobza’s exquisitely light and echoed fills and Duane Eddy-esqe twang seamlessly compliment and play off of pianist Mark Ross’ elegant, jazzy runs and saxist Danny Pelfrey’s nuanced flavorings, which blossom after the second chorus into a beautifully lyrical and thoughtful solo.

Another standout, the jazzy “Undone Without You,” has Kelly shredding the boundaries of cool. Playful, yearning and above all, sexy, Kelly’s plea to an AWOL lover has an alluring Peggy Lee-meets-Garbo (on the low notes) quality to it that begs the question, who in his right mind would leave? Complete with walking double-bass, octave guitar, libidinous saxophone and what may go down in history as the coolest, most understated piano riffing ever, “Undone Without You” is as fun as it is supremely musical.

If there is a problem with Petals and Thorns, it’s the record’s tendency toward sameness on repeated listening. Of course, one listener’s sameness is another listener’s consistency of sound, but personally, on the next Ann Kelly effort I’d like to hear Kelly open up her higher register a bit more and maybe add more variation to the design and instrumentation of the production.

But, all picking of nits aside — this EP is a thoroughly rewarding listen. With strong, catchy tunes written by Kelly and Ross, Ross’ crisp, uncluttered production and arrangements, and standout performances by pros who obviously still love music, Petals and Thorns is a collection of well conceived and extremely well executed songs that should get lots of radio action. A solid first outing from L.A.’s Ann Kelly.

 Hear samples of Petals and Thorns at