No one can forget Eartha Kitt, the African-American chanteuse, voice artist in animation films and actress on Broadway, in Hollywood, and perhaps most importantly an activist for perhaps as she was a performer—which is to say all her life. No one can forget her seductive voice and the distinctive singer that she was and it is for this that she is celebrated in I Wanna Be Evil (With Love to Eartha Kitt, a stellar tribute from a singer who has all of the singular characteristics to pay such an homage to that fabled star. That singer is René Marie. This singer appears to be virtually everything that Ms. Kitt was: an actress and writer, and a singer of immense potential. Ms. Marie, like the woman she celebrates here, is sensual and seductive, and she captures almost all of the energy and likeliness of Eartha Kitt on this beckoning album.
To sing as Eartha Kitt would, Ms. Marie has raised the level of her performance to one she will never now desert; she is engaging, mesmerising, husky and simply perfect. In fact if this were a role on Broadway, Ms. Marie would have been awarded an Emmy. She is that perfect. Ms. Marie was probably born to sing. It is hard to think of her as someone who has been coached, although it is clear that she has been trained to fine tune her abilities so that her enunciation is wonderful, her phrasing is fetching and full of surprise. She has a knack of hanging on to notes as if they were something delicious; to be savoured with almost sinful pleasure. These dalliances give her music something startling—a magnetic appeal that few singers can claim. This is something that is immediately evident in “C’est si Bon” and in “Santa Baby,” which are two of the charts in Eartha Kitt’s repertoire that defined her as a singer as well.
Another striking aspect of this album is the ensemble that has been brought together to support Ms. Marie in this musical quest. It would seem as if they are eminently equipped to make this music as memorable as well. Wycliffe Gordon, of course, stamps his soli with his unique manner of playing—sounding as he does, as if he were singing through the mouthpiece of his trombone. Both Adrian Cunningham—with his woody tone and lush colours—on clarinet and Etienne Charles, who literally burns through the score whenever he is playing paint startling images, as to pianist Kevin Bales. The bassist, Elias Bailey is absolutely exquisite; playing plump, ripe notes and dancing around chords as he fills the room with deep sound; and he is ably supported by a drummer who is all ears, plays with flair and eminently good taste.
It would appear that René Marie has now established that she can sing—and do so with beauty and magnetism. What will her next move be? That may be difficult to anticipate. This album will be difficult to top in terms of repertoire, character and execution. But then, while no one is looking and few anticipating, Ms. Marie might just as well write her own charts, assemble a group like this (if not this altogether) and stun the fans that she has made with this album. That would not be so much of a stretch: René Marie is made of music and that means she can pull one out of her proverbial hat without so much as batting an eyelid. Scores of new-found fans of serious music can hardly wait. Not for much longer.
Track List: I’d Rather Be Burned As a Witch; C’est si bon; Oh, John; Let´s Do It; Peel Me a Grape; My Heart Belongs to Daddy; I Wanna Be Evil; Come On-a My House; Santa Baby; Weekend.
Personnel: René Marie: vocals; Wycliffe Gordon: trombone; Adrian Cunningham: tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute; Etienne Charles: trumpet, percussion; Kevin Bales: piano; Elias Bailey: bass; Quentin Baxter: drums, percussion, washboard.
Label: Motema | Release date: December 2013
About René Marie
René Marie – singer, actress, writer. Eartha Kitt – singer, actress, writer. Never before has there been a vocal recording tipping the hat to the divine Ms. Kitt and her fiery, sensual and clever interpretations of songs. With her incredible range of vocal ability, her powerful emotional resonance and strong independent streak, René is the right artist to conceive of this historic project, out November 12 on the adventurous, multi-Grammy®-nominated label Motéma Music. I Wanna Be Evil (With Love to Eartha Kitt) is René’s third recording for the label and her 10th career album.