By Doug Levine
Jackie Allen was born to sing. While she was growing up in Wisconsin, her father played Dixieland jazz on the tuba, Jackie sang and played the French horn. There may have been an Allen family band had Jackie not left home to study jazz and voice at the University of Wisconsin. She formed her first group in the mid-1980s, before moving to Chicago and becoming one of that city's busiest nightclub performers.
Now, with the release of her latest album, Love Is Blue, Jackie Allen proves that she's also one of today's most distinctive recording artists.
They are not the usual jazz standards that you might hear on a vocal album with "love" in the title. But rest assured, these are songs that are just as poignant when dealing with matters of the heart.
Embracing all that romance has to offer and accepting of love's ups and downs, Jackie Allen is low-key on "Lazy Afternoon." But, as easy as she makes it sound on a song about two people just wanting to be alone, she delves into deeper and darker emotional depths on the title track, "Love Is Blue."
Remember riding in an elevator or sitting in a dentist's office and hearing Paul Mauriat's feathery instrumental, "Love Is Blue," Jackie says she remembers hearing it years ago, but never knew there were lyrics until she found the original version in French. On stage, she plans to sing "Love Is Blue" in both French and English.
On "The Performer," Jackie decides it's probably "better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all."
With a jazz style that draws directly from her pop and folk influences, Jackie is being compared to Cassandra Wilson and Diana Krall. Of course, entering the fiercely competitive vocal arena is always going to be dotted with dangerous curves. Comparisons aside, Jackie Allen is doing just fine. Fans will find her lyrics refreshing, her vocals accessible, and her material intriguing.
Only time will tell if there's a new jazz star among us.
I am Doug Levine.