may 2009

Stony Plain

Duke Robillard has been showing up on an awful lot of good records in the past couple of years, and one starts to suspect it's not by accident. The ace guitarist, he of the intimate acquaintance with all manner of blues-based roots music, now goes into small combo swing band mode to further the ambitions of one fine vocalist of lovely mien and expressive interpretive artistry, Sunny Crownover. Herein producer and acoustic archtop guitarist Robillard steers Crownover through a tasty set of largely '30s and '40s era chestnuts, cool and swinging, dreamy and seductive, the lot of them. How could you go wrong when you have a singer who can deliver and a band that can roil and simmer as the moment requires? Backing Crownover, in addition to Robillard, is an exemplary trifecta of pluperfect players: Billy Novick on clarinet and alto sax; Paul Kolesnikow on acoustic archtop guitar; and Jesse Williams on acoustic bass. Check out the dreamy mood Crownover conjures so deliciously on the bluesy come-on "That's My Desire," an oft covered song reborn on the strength of Novick's sultry sax and the singer's emotional immersion in her lovestruck yearning. Maxine Sullivan's debut recording, "Stop You're Breakin' My Heart," is an insouciant groover given a buoyant lift by Novick's playful clarinet lines winding their serpentine way around the melody as Robillard answers him with some frisky archtop runs of his own, all in service to Crownover's playful, lighthearted lyrical reading. It takes at the very least some abundance of self-confidence to tackle Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday songs, but Crownover does both, and does both justice. Ella's represented a couple of times, with the buoyant album opening romp, "Strictly from Dixie," which Crownover knocks out of the park with a reading that evokes Ella's infectious spirit but finds its own way into the sprightly rhythmic drive keyed by Novick's bright clarinet lines and some tasty, discursive solo forays by Robillard; and later with "Undecided," another uptempo gem sparked by the clarinet-archtop interplay and Crownover's airy, brisk reading. The group stakes its claim in Billie Holiday territory with "Travelin' All Alone," and if Crownover doesn't exactly get as deep inside the colors of the songs as Billie did, she still gets to the heart of the matter with her straightforward treatment. A gently swaying take on "I Don't Mind," rich in moody clarinet courtesy Novick, and a lilting treatment of "I'm Satisfied" (with Robillard adding a little extra atmosphere with some robust slide guitar commentary), two songs associated with Ivie Anderson are other scintillating components of a most satisfying debut that marks Ms. Crownover as one of the most interesting new voices on the classic pop scene. Making a record that sounds good at about any time of the day is no small accomplishment, but Sunny And Her Joy Boys have delivered exactly that, consequently whetting the appetite for more. —David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024