Artist: Roberta Donnay and the Prohibition Band
Album: A Little Sugar
Why you should listen: This is San Francisco vocalist Roberta Donnay’s homage to the blues and jazz musicians who came before her. It’s a delectable baker’s dozen songs by American heroes including Irving Berlin and Fats Waller written between 1897 and 1939. Donnay’s only original composition here written with Joel Evans titled “Empty Bed Blues” is from the new century. Her list of inspirations includes great singers such as Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith but also places including Chicago, Kansas City and her hometown Washington D.C. Donnay’s vocals are the album’s focus supported by an ensemble of men on piano, drums and brass wind instruments.
The project is appropriately titled because her voice is sweetness to the ears throughout. She has a delicacy of tone and phrasing that’s seductively attractive. Donnay’s lilting tenderness on “Say It Isn’t So” is express check-in to heartbreak hotel. She displays a controlled quavering on the song’s last notes that’s remarkably poignant. Donnay’s arrangements with Sam Bevan breathe contemporary pizzazz into some true chestnuts including the rarely heard “Rocking Chair” and “You’ve Been a Good Ole Wagon.”
Swinging tunes, such as “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show” and “Tropical Heatwave” find Donnay with her sassy pants on. On the later she concludes the song with an adorable diminutive scat passage. Donnay does saucy “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl” at a slowly torrid pace threatening to ignite whatever speakers it’s coming through. Her interpretation is a flirtatious lyrical invitation honoring the earthy vitality of blues and jazz early days.
As my Kansas City granny would say, it’s hotter than love in August. Similarly “Empty Bed Blues” is pillow talk in song. The attentive instrumental solos frame Donnay’s dreamy vocal musings. There’s not a little sugar in this album, it’s a full, loving cup.