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Natasha Miller - Don't Move Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 July 2006
format:    16-bit CD
performance:    9
sound:    9
release year:    2006
label:    Poignant
reviewed by:    Scott Yanow

ImageIn 2001, Natasha Miller was a single mother living in San Francisco and working as an ad buyer, while Bobby Sharp was a forgotten songwriter whose only claim to fame was that Ray Charles had a hit in the early ‘60s with his "Unchain My Heart." During the five years since, they have changed each other's lives.

Natasha Miller was originally a classical violinist, founding the Sapphire String Quartet and working with orchestras in the Midwest. After moving to San Francisco in 1995, she started performing jazz and pop, working as a singer and often accompanying herself on guitar and piano. But when her day job in the advertising field became lucrative, she de-emphasized her music for several years.

In 2001, she decided that what she really wanted to do was perform music, so she quit her advertising job and began working five nights a week in San Francisco clubs. She recorded two CDs (including one of her own original songs) that did well locally, and she began to get a reputation as an appealing jazz-based singer. Then a fateful radio appearance in 2003 altered her life.
One of the listeners was Bobby Sharp, and he loved her voice so much that he sent her a package of his songs, most of which had never been performed by others or even recorded. Natasha was amazed at the high quality and variety to be found in the unknown gems, many of which had been written years earlier. A musical partnership was born. Five months later, she performed a concert of Bobby Sharp's music and the audience's reaction was very favorable.

Most jazz singers today, unless they are songwriters themselves, have great difficulty finding fresh material to perform. How many more versions must there be of such warhorses as "Love for Sale" and "My Funny Valentine"? How can a 21st-century singer make 60- or 70-year-old songs, even by such greats as George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, sound definitive when they have already been recorded hundreds of times?

Natasha Miller no longer faces that dilemma. Her 2004 recording I Had a Feelin' introduced a full set of Bobby Sharp songs. Don't Move is a second program of Sharp tunes and it is filled with unknown treasures. One can certainly imagine a few of these songs becoming standards in the future, if other singers pay attention. The title cut is a particularly memorable and charming love song, as is the philosophical "You Don't Have to Learn (How to Sing the Blues)." Elsewhere, Sharp's lyrics are ironic, often witty, subtle and continually surprising. "Stolen Love (on Highway 99)" and "Snow Covers the Valley" are two very different ways of expressing the loss of love, "Don't Set Me Free" has some lines that every spouse should use, "At Midnight" is about loneliness and "Doin' the Impossible" is a very hopeful closer.

While not an adventurous improviser, Natasha Miller has an excellent voice, understates emotions quite effectively, is on-pitch and always swings. The singer is joined by pianist Josh Nelson's trio, with occasional contributions from three horns and three strings (including Natasha on violin). Sharp himself makes a special appearance, singing with Natasha on "As the Years Come and Go."

Housed with an attractive 24-page booklet, Don't Move becomes more interesting with each listen. Lovers of the American popular song can consider it essential.

When the sound quality is at this level, it becomes taken for granted by the third song. The instruments sound lifelike, the balance is superior and the music sounds as if it was being played close by at a private concert. Since Natasha Miller has the ability to make her vocals sound as if they are aimed directly at each listener, the sound is compatible with the high musical quality.

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