Adrian Rose,
Nothing But Pearls
(SBS, 2002)

I've never been to Louisiana, but I've been to New Orleans.

The trip was quick and easy -- I just slipped my new CD from Adrian Rose into the stereo and suddenly southcentral Pennsylvania was far, far away. I was sitting in a small jazz club, dark and smoky, sipping bourbon as Adrian poured her heart into the room.

The CD, Nothing But Pearls, is a postcard from jazz, doing well, wish you were here. Adrian sings from her timeless core, sultry and flirtatious with a slice of heartbreak, equal parts Clara Bow and Macy Gray.

The CD's title is reflected in the cover and various photos in the liner notes, which could be rated PG-13. Adrian isn't shy and she wears her pearls well -- but there's a story behind them, explained briefly but colorfully in the sparse text.

Adrian is the daughter of Estar Pearl, a famous Parisian jazz singer who fell on hard times after moving to the Big Easy. Pregnant and abandoned by her lover, she moved in with a close family of African American musicians and then, after giving birth to Adrian, headed back to Paris to capitalize on her fame there so she could send for her daughter in style. But her mysterious death left Adrian orphaned in New Orleans; her adopted family filled one void in her life, music filled the other. Her passion for pearls is a tribute to her mother and her music.

But it's neither the story nor the photos that kept me listening to this CD for weeks on end before reluctantly taking it out of my car to write this review. Adrian sings with a voice that is half cry, half giggle, half sex and -- well, toss a few more halves in there, too.

Adrian looks at the world through the lens of new love in "Midnight Sun," then ponders inescapable romance with "That Old Devil Called Love." She looks at love from my angles, from the wistful "Crazy He Calls Me" to the whimsical "Them There Eyes" and the wishful "Lover Man." "Solitude" is despairing, then "Honeysuckle Rose" adds a spoonful of gritty sugar. "You're Blase" is an odd to indifference, while "Corcovado" has a mysterious air and a Latin dance beat. "You're My Thrill" is a contented, satisfied love song.

The CD ends with "Nothing But Pearls," a song by producer Deborah Allen (*). It leaves the realm of love and deals with lust instead -- on the surface for jewelry (pearls, specifically), but it doesn't take a very hard look to discern a meaning that will make those of a tender disposition blush.

Propping up Adrian's sensuous vocals are the Rosebuds: Dean Slocum on piano, Gary Branchaud on upright bass and Fred Satterfield on drums. Denis Solee guests on sax.

Nothing But Pearls will make a jazz lover of anyone. Book your audio journey to New Orleans now!

* Truth be told, Deborah Allen -- a noted country singer and songwriter -- is Adrian Rose ... but the fiction is so much more fun than the reality.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 8 November 2003

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