Writer: Phil Brett
It is a shame how underrated Dinah Washington is, especially amongst the sniffier elements of the jazz clan, because her gusty, gossip influenced voice made her songs of even a mundane standard sound quite wonderful.
She may never have been an Ella Fitzgerald or a Billie Holiday but still she has a catalogue of songs worth savouring. For some reason she has been especially undervalued in Britain, although over the last couple of years her reputation has been enjoying somewhat of an increase in fortunes. This is quite possibly due to a commercial which featured her rendition of Mad About The Boy, which will no doubt have the sniffers requiring larger handkerchiefs, but more importantly it also means that she stands a chance of getting heard by a larger audience. An audience which might like to lend an ear to the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release What A Difference A Day Makes.
The album was originally released on Emercy in 1959 and was one of several she recorded for the label. Backed by a studio orchestra seemingly comprising of every string section of the known galaxy she belts out twelve pop classics: there’s Cry Me A River, Time After Time and of course her won classic, What A Difference A Day Made ( and no, that’s an error. If you want to know why there’s a difference in tenses then buy the CD and read the linear notes). She sings them all brilliantly and there’s not a track duff enough to skip. Still, their familiarity does make it hard to comment on them. I mean, what more can be said about Cry Me A River?, other than, that Washington sings it fabulously, with controlled emotion and with her distinct bluesy intonation.
Released on MFSL Ultradisc 11 (TM) compact discs series, this is the latest in quality jazz releases from the small American specialist company. For those who have not enjoyed the Ultradiscs – or been able to afford them, they’re hardly bargain basement priced – they are CDs which are 24 carat gold coated. The gold isn’t there for beauty (though they are fairly pretty) or to be melted down for your mum’s ear-rings, but MFSL believe that the choice of metal ensures a long life fo the disc. There has been a debate that for standard discs, when exposed to the air, oxidisation is caused which shortens their life span. This does not happen with gold. Plus, as gold coats more smoothly the reflective layer of the disc there is less ‘guessing’ required by the player itself (if there are imperfections in the disc, the player has to guess what the information was going to be, which might lead to an inferior sound quality).
And boy, this disc is good. The orchestra is so lush that they’re like a huge velvet cushion which you just want to throw yourself into (I think I’m getting a bit carried away here). There’s also the backing singers who are totally zingin’ (to use a non-word after found in such torch songs), and of course the most important element of all – her deep mature voice. When not listening to this on my main system I put it on the portable whilst toiling away a various domestic chores. And eve on a battered paint splattered cheap ghetto blaster the music can still envelope you in at warm luxury.
Main photo: Steve Jackson 1953. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Mary E. Jackson, Posthumously and Linda A. Jackson.