Reviewed by Randy Radic
Delilah Sings Sarah + 1 is the name of the album, which is a tribute to Sarah Vaughan, the American jazz superstar known as “The Divine One.” Vaughan sang what was called lounge jazz, but because of her dynamic voice it became something more. The danger for Toronto’s Delilah, who, like Madonna, goes by a single name, is the comparison factor: can Delilah sing the songs The Divine One made famous without being banished to Weeny Hut, Jr., along with Sponge Bob Squarepants.
Born in Hungary, Delilah’s family immigrated to Toronto, where Delilah became enamored with lounge jazz. She began singing and before long had carved out a place for herself in Toronto’s jazz clubs. Her tribute to The Divine One is Delilah’s fourth album. Her first album, called Jazz, covered the well-known classics of the genre. A safe move for a first album, Jazz received praise because of Delilah’s sultry voice. For her second album, Delilah took a bit of a risk, combining jazz with a gypsy influence via her Hungarian roots. The album, Gypsy Love, played better than expected. On her third effort, Delilah decided to go with what she liked. The result was Sweeterlife, a collection of Delilah’s jazz favorites.
Delilah Sings Sarah +1 is another foray into the risk category. Not only is she risking comparison with a jazz icon, but she is paraphrasing the title of The Divine One’s most popular album, which was Sarah +2. In Vaughan’s case, the title was simple: Vaughan sang accompanied only by a guitar and a double-bass. In Delilah’s case, the title is a bit more complex. Delilah eschews the guitar and the double-bass, replacing them with the whole orchestra. +1 is indicative of the addition of “Smile” to the album.
The first track on the album is “September in the Rain.” The arrangement is smooth and traditional, which lends itself to an easy familiarity. The orchestra is tight and not overly dramatic. Delilah’s vocals are sultry but avoid the trap of breathy sex-kitten that contemporary divas tend to fall into. It must a Marilyn Monroe thing. In any event, Delilah sidesteps the hidden snare, which allows her to strut her stuff. Her voice is strong and radiant, with excellent phrasing.
“Just Friends” is the next track. Again, Delilah’s voice is spot-on: sultry with a hint of huskiness that complements the musical arrangement, which carries just the right amount of 1950s kitsch.
The fly in the ointment is “Whatever Lola Wants.” Delilah’s voice is weak to the point of being insipid. And this is a song that screams for a quixotic attitude that it doesn’t get. Instead, Delilah sounds self-conscious and hesitant. The arrangement doesn’t help matters, sounding like a tinny roundelay played by amateurs. The whole thing just falls apart, droops and waits for someone to drag it out back to the dumpster. Delilah should have nixed this one and told the producer what Delilah wants.
“Smile” is the +1 song. Fortunately, Delilah, the orchestra and the producer have marshalled their forces after the “Whatever Lola Wants” fiasco. The arrangement is soft and warm, and Delilah turns off the sultriness, replacing it with a mellifluous candor that transcends the music.
Delilah displays a wonderful voice, a vivacious instrument of expression. It’s perfect for the big band sound. The range she demonstrates on Delilah Sings Sarah +1 is – hopefully – a harbinger of a forthcoming album of original songs. It’s time for Delilah to venture forth.