Bett Butler,
Short Stories
(Mandala Music, 2001)

Bett Butler, from San Antonio, Texas, is meant to play those dark smoke-filled jazz clubs in Manhattan or New Orleans, or in R&B clubs somewhere in Memphis. This singing and piano-playing young lady is full of jazz and R&B influences. The fact Butler is from the Lone Star State is only apparent on tracks like "Bubba's Inconvenience Store," in which she relates a tale of what happens at a small corner store while waiting for her car to be towed after a hitting an armadillo on a back road, and "Do it Right," which has a nice small-town Texas feel to it without being "country." Both feature very non-Texas-sounding horn sections.

Eleven tracks, nine of which feature a brass section or horn-playing jazz soloist, are all originals that display both Butler's songwriting talent and her ample vocal skills. This album is one of the few jazz recordings that demands the listener pay attention to the lyrics in order to fully enjoy the music.

There are two hornless entries, "Angels" and "Butterfly." Both are "sensitive" singer-songwriter fare with a wholly feminine point of view, but they are not out of place because the musical arrangements accompanying them do not get bogged down with syrupy strings or sappy instrumentation, and because Butler has a chance to show off her vocal prowess and versatility. These tracks require a much higher vocal register and feminine voice than the tougher sounding alto she uses on the jazz cuts.

Most of the songs walk a fine line between R&B and jazz. Nice instrumental flourishes, such as a muted trumpet spiraling around and under Butler's vocal but above the horn section, place "Let's Talk It Over" firmly into the jazz realm. At the same time the track sports a huge sounding bass line that is pushed heavily into the forefront in the manner of classic R&B recordings. You decide which genre the song falls into. It really doesn't matter because quality is quality regardless of its name.

Other highlights include "I Saw You on the Street Today," in which a very blue sounding flugelhorn joins Butler's melancholy voice and lyrics about ending a relationship with a philandering mate, and "A Hundred Tears From Now," a much more upbeat number with a completely different point of view on the same subject.

Short Stories will appeal mostly to jazz fans but it can still please those with more mainstream tastes. It is a diverse work from a woman who can sing, compose and write lyrics well. With a good publicity machine Butler could achieve wide commercial acceptance.

[ by Charlie Ricci ]
Rambles: 19 April 2002

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