A bit disappointing this far flung over-nice female singer-themed album turns out.
Packed full of songs that are too familiar it would take considerable genius to reinvent even one of them let along all. That isn’t on the menu. To be fair Robin McKelle gives it a good go. With her are pianist and arranger Shedrick Mitchell, heard by marlbank live with Keyon Harrold during the London Jazz Festival; bassist Richie Goods; drummer Charles Haynes; and guitarist Nir Felder (again in the Harrold band that night at Ronnie’s). Abdullah Ibrahim saxophonist Keith Loftis is on McKelle original ‘Head High’ and trumpeter Marquis Hill is on Lana Del Rey’s 'Born to Die'.
I wasn’t taken much by the nonetheless accomplished treatment of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’ or Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’. But ‘Head High’ is far better and I wish there were more originals on the album because this of more jazz interest and fresh, but the angle here overall on Alterations is aiming not at jazz fans but at a mass market. Mitchell’s accompaniment on this McKelle song is engaged and bright. ‘You’ve Changed’ is certainly a world away from Billie Holiday’s version but gets lost in the update when all the rough edges are smoothed off.
McKelle's voice redeems most of the so-so song choices. Hers is a sweeping soul-soaked instrument reminiscent of a cross between Susan Tedeschi’s and that of Ronnie Scott's soul singer Natalie Williams. I skipped on to Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ that McKelle seems to warm to more and where she delivers a Janis Joplin-like flourish. Against the odds this works. As for Joni’s ‘River’ it’s OK and Sade’s ‘No Ordinary Love’ started off with a bass introduction is again perfectly nice. ‘Mercedes Benz’ occupies territory McKelle is a lot more comfortable with and if all the songs revolved around this gutsier axis like some of her previous work with the Flytones then it would be a lot better. Carole King’s 'You’ve Got a Friend' again returns to default pleasantness. SG Rating: 3 stars.