FAME Review: Lyn Stanley – Potions (from the 50s)

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

Though she always was in love with them, Lyn Stanley came late to the vocal arts and made a startling debut with last year’s Lost in Romance (here) after being discovered by maestro pianist Paul Smith in 2010, a guy who knew class when he heard it. When I critiqued her debut, I also mentioned her finesse as a top-flight ballroom dancer, but here’s what I hadn’t known: she holds a doctorate, worked with Fortune 500 companies, and taught marketing and advertising at a number of colleges. Talk about beauty, brains, and unreal talent in one svelte package…YOW! Overseas, Stanley is acclaimed as a “chanteuse extraordinaire”, and one writer came close the core of her art when he cited her as “quietly emotional”.

Sure, she swings and almost belts it out in a few places, but the intelligence, restraint, and endless subtle inflections of her interpretations are what shine through everything. It’s not a matter of just the notes and chops but also the cognizance of what resides in the compositions that others didn’t perceive, what can be done with them, the fragile strength of such classics as You Don’t Know Me. There’s an inescapable warmth in the entire repertoire, Stanley the sort of singer who reaches deeply into heart, soul, and mind to bridge her understanding of the humanity of the compositions over to the audience, to cast a different light on the familiar. This is nowhere so evident as in her version of The Thrill is Gone, my favorite track.

Many think B.B. King wrote the song, but that’s not so. It was penned by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell in 1951, and, under Hawkins’ own rendition, reached #6 on Billboard’s R&B chart the same year. B.B., however, immortalized it in 1970, and many have since covered the blockbuster, but I’m telling you here and now that Lyn re-owns it, waltzing the cut from its slow blues and rock-blues glories over to distinctively jazzy blues from a swanky piano bar (Bill Cunliffe on the keys). Guitarist Thom Rotella slides in a middle eight halfway between Tommy Tedesco and Earl Klugh, but—and this is where her unique abilities take the front stage as the track closes, Lyn imbues the final passages with light and resolution, perfectly embodying the lyrical transition from depression to acceptance and renewal.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt, either, that she has an impeccable supporting cast playing and arranging: the aforementioned Rotella and Cunliffe, Joe LaBarbera, Kenny Werner, Luis Conte, the redoubtable Tamir Hendleman, etc., as well as three gents putting in a number of pristine leads on reeds and brass. Then there’s Al Schmitt and the waaaay legendary Bernie Grundman on tech duties, making the affair an audiophile delight (available even in SACD). The closing song puts the seal of excellence on the entire repertoire in minimalist fashion, a sensitive, aching, beautiful vocal/piano duet between Stanley and Werner on The Man I Love. For all its trimmed-down presence, it’s nonetheless complete and luxurious…and almost made it as my favored cut, but, God, what she does to The Thrill is Gone!

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