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Memphis...Yes, I'm Ready

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Performer Notes
  • Personnel: Dee Dee Bridgewater (vocals); Garry Goin (guitar); Kirk Whalum (tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone); Lannie McMillan, Kirk Smothers (tenor saxophone); Marc Franklin (trumpet); Kameron Whalum (trombone); John Stoddart (keyboards); James Sexton (drums); Lawrence "Boo" Mitchell (cymbals, tambourine); Sharisse Norman, Kevin Whalum, Stax Music Academy, Candise Rayborn-Marshall (background vocals).
  • Liner Note Author: Dee Dee Bridgewater.
  • Recording information: Royal Studios, Memphis, TN (09/05/2016-09/11/2016); Royal Studios, Memphis, TN (12/06/2016-12/13/2016).
  • Photographers: Tulani Bridgewater Kowalski; Rachel Ashley.
  • There's no question that Dee Dee Bridgewater is one of America's great jazz vocalists, but that's hardly the only thing she can do. Bridgewater was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and while her family pulled up stakes for Flint, Michigan when she was only three, she still feels a spiritual connection with the city and its music, and on 2017's Memphis...Yes, I'm Ready, she puts her love of vintage soul and blues front and center. Bridgewater recorded Memphis...Yes, I'm Ready at Royal Recorders, the Bluff City studio where producer Willie Mitchell cut a string of hits with Al Green in the '70s, and Willie's son Lawrence "Boo" Mitchell co-produced the sessions along with Dee Dee and her daughter Tulani Bridgewater. Mitchell pulled together a splendid studio band for this album, including a few members of the old Hi Rhythm Section, and they deliver a superb set of soulful grooves, at once swampy and emphatic, with John Stoddart's electric piano, Jackie Clark's bass, and James "Bishop" Sexton's drums generating just the right amount of funk. With a top-shelf soul band cooking behind her, Dee Dee Bridgewater steps up as a top-shelf soul singer, smooth when she should be, good and gritty when she wants to be, and sounding tough, passionate, and firmly in command at all times. That Bridgewater delivers on soul classics such as "Yes, I'm Ready," "Try a Little Tenderness," and "B.A.B.Y." is not a great surprise, but her transformation of B.B. King's blues perennial "The Thrill Is Gone" into a smoky late-night groove is both unexpected and welcome, and she works an impressive transformation on two numbers associated with Elvis Presley, "Don't Be Cruel" and "Hound Dog," finding a tough R&B center inside them. "The Sweeter He Is" gives Dee Dee a chance to open up her soul and tell us some home truths about cheating men, and the closing performance of the gospel standard "(Take My Hand) Precious Lord" is glorious. Dee Dee Bridgewater strips off some of the polish from her style on Memphis...Yes, I'm Ready without betraying her talent or best musical instincts, and this detour into Soul City is a treat that should please her fans, as well as anyone who digs Southern soul. ~ Mark Deming
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