Santa Barbara jazz act the Sally Cats strut their brilliance on new CD
(Santa Barbara, CA) Written by Robert Sutton. It begins with an acoustic guitar, its strings warm and harmonious to the ear. Then a female voice appears, sweet and soft. Horns kick in, eventually making way for a scorching violin.
On their latest album, Wonderful Day, the Sally Cats have a beautiful way of introducing themselves. This isn't just another jazz act covering familiar standards with the same unimaginative, cookie-cutter approach. On Wonderful Day, the Sally Cats sing of life and love with the blue-sky optimism of a California summer. This is West Coast jazz with the arena-filling sound of a Big Band.
The Sally Cats is fronted by vocalist Sally Barr, whose connection to the Santa Barbara jazz scene runs deeper than the group. Barr is also the editor/publisher of MUSIC! The Sounds of Santa Barbara, a monthly magazine that chronicles the city's diverse population of artists even beyond the world of jazz. After Barr relocated to Santa Barbara in 1992, she quickly became involved in regional live performances, joining the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra and the Santa Barbara Symphony as well as eventually bands of her own including the Sally Cats. "I am delighted to have been among the music makers here in Santa Barbara for nearly the past two decades," Barr said. "I am so proud to watch it flourish as the years go by."
Barr's bluesy croon is certainly among the Sally Cats' strengths. When Barr sings, "Saving my love for you," on "Ain't Misbehavin'," it is with an aching sincerity that is profoundly moving. On "You Don't Know What Love Is," Barr plumbs the depth of despair with unguarded fragility.
Remarkably, a voice as powerful as Barr's could overshadow the contributions of her band but that's not the case at all. Surrounded by top-drawer veteran players, the rest of the Cats continually strut their brilliance. James Connolly's pulsating bass and Jon Nathan's crackling drums help give "What Is This Thing Called Love" its boisterous energy; Tom Buckner's lush, crestfallen saxophone on "You Don't Know What Love Is" heighten its sense of loss; Nate Birkey's giddy trumpet elevates the sunny charms of "Caravan"; and Brad Rabuchin's guitar playing is consistently crisp and engaging throughout.
Given the talent involved, it won't be long before the Sally Cats will purr their way into the heart of America.
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