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Listening Party

Felicia Carter and Amy Shook: Nothing to Do

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Felicia Carter and Amy Shook

Nothing to Do

ShookShak Productions

When the contemporary female jazz vocalist norm looks/sounds like posh cosmopolitanism (the Diana Krall, Jane Moneheit, Lorraine Feather model) or stately eminence (Dee Dee Bridgewater, Patti Austin, Dianne Reeves, etc.), it’s not that surprising that some women might take a page from Cassandra Wilson and tweak the mold to suit her strengths. It’s what Nellie McKay has done, playing with mid-century jazz and pops the way Dr. Dre riffed on 1970s funk. And it’s what local vocalist and songwriter Felicia Carter has done since teaming up with bassist Amy Shook. Their 2009 double LP Feather/Step Lightly saw Carter take a throwback turn toward late 1950s jazz and pops.

It was lovely female-fronted jazz in a traditional vein, but with their new Nothing to Do Carter and Shook have done something more idiosyncratic and engaging. Released on their own ShookShak Productions, Nothing looks and feels less like it’s trying to recall something else and instead be its own damn self. These 10 tracks—most of which are Carter and Shook originals, all featuring percussionist Frank Russo, guitarist Donato Soviero, and the hip-wiggling pianist Bob Butta—stick to the after-hours tempos that suit Carter’s supple voice, but there’s an unfussy attitude to the whole affair. It’s right there in the cheekily insolent title: Nothing to Do is the sort of thing you might expect from a pub band that worked out songs in front of convivial crowds of drinkers and lovers—only that pub band knew its way around bluesy, countrified jazz and was fronted by a woman whose power is subtlety.

Carter’s quiet lifts “Call to Me,” the sort of gossamer folk built around an acoustic guitar line that would make beardos weep were it on an Iron and Wine album. Butta’s slinky piano complements Carter’s gentle gin-joint praising of un-smart man candy—“who says a man should strive to be astute and complex/ when all he needs to learn is to please the fairer sex”—in the wry “You Don’t Have to Be Brilliant (to Mesmerize Me).” And in the album standout “Winter’s Wait (Esperando),” Carter hangs a gorgeous Portuguese lyric on a spartan acoustic guitar figure before switching to English, after bass and percussion sneak in, and the song blossoms into a disarming ballad.

Felicia Carter and Amy Shook play a CD release show April 8 at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson.

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