4.5 star album review in The Australian

Posted on September 16, 2011 by lee

Label: Independent
Rating: 4-1/2 stars

Reviewer: John McBeath

GIVEN her background, experience and abundance of exceptional vocal and compositional talents, Lee McAllistair deserves to be far better known in Australia.

Originally from Adelaide, now Sydney-based, McAllistair was a member of the SA vocal quartet Women with Standards, and studied for a bachelor of music at Adelaide’s Elder Conservatorium with Jo Lawry, now co-vocalist with Sting, and Anita Wardell, who has built a successful singing career in London and Europe.

For two years McAllistair took up a teaching post in jazz vocal studies at the conservatorium, and during the past 15 years has performed in London, Edinburgh, at festivals across Asia and recorded for the BBC, London and the ABC in Australia. Her vocal style is a little reminiscent of Peggy Lee, using similar expressive phrasing, but with a mistier, more fragile quality, over a wider range, and she writes strikingly beautiful songs that work very well on musical and poetic levels.

While there is no shortage of able female jazz vocalists in Australia, there are very, very few able to write as convincingly and memorably as McAllistair.

The opening stanza of Borneo, a highly evocative ballad in 5/4 time, immediately envelops the listener in an exotic, gauzy image of tropical dreaming: “Time stands still in Borneo/Senses fill in Borneo/Can I steal away eternity?” This all-Adelaide production features pianist Mark Simeon Ferguson — who also arranged many of the originals — and guitarist Mike Bevan, with bassist Lyndon Gray.

The title track, Spellbound, a tempo-less ballad, opens with gentle, unearthly piano chords as the lyric describes a meeting between former lovers and the melody climbs and falls cyclically until the finale of five ascending vocal notes ends impressively in sopranino territory.

A straight-ahead, medium-tempo swinger, The Odd Couple is neatly groove-driven by bass and guitar beneath McAllistair’s occasionally melismatic vocals, and the piano and guitar solos are directly from the zenith of the swing era. In a perfect delivery of honeyed scat, McAllistair begins No Cinderella, underpinned by Gray’s Big Ben bass, which later takes a superbly stoked speedy solo; the lyrics are cleverly nonsensical: “Well there was no Cinderella with size twelve shoes/Yes it’s a Grimm kind of fairytale of postmodern blues.”