Let’s face it: if an album of John Boutté singing (mostly) standards with a jazz trio had turned out to be anything less than magnificent, anyone who knows the man’s music would have been surprised. His way with a standard is a calling card by now; most of these songs have been in his live repertoire for years, and they’re a large part of the reason people float out of his best shows instead of just walking.
So we’re glad to report that this is exactly the album you’d expect and hope for. Which is not to say there wasn’t some art involved in capturing these particular performances: The trick of making a standards album is to make the songs sound like they were written last week, and Boutté manages that here: it’s no small feat to put a thrill of discovery into songs this familiar. It’s the delight in his voice that makes “Fly Me to The Moon” fresh again, as he playfully stretches syllables and holds off on the “I love you” until the song’s very end. The Mardi Gras Indian anthem “My Indian Red” gets one of the subtler treatments it’s had; he finds the hymn within the marching song. On “The Very Thought of You” it’s the sound of his voice that delights; he becomes a muted trumped on the “my love” before the instrumental break. And on “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans”—perhaps the most oft-recorded of all the songs here—his high-register glide on the line “Wish that I were there” says it all about yearning. (Notably he also pluralizes the last line—“I miss the ones I care for”—maintaining the post-Katrina content he gave it on the Treme soundtrack).
The gamble of recording the whole album with only three players pays off, as accompanists Christopher Todd Duke (guitar), Nobumasa Ozaki (bass) and Oscar Rossignoli (piano) know when to add subtle shadings and when to step forward and swing. Guitarist Duke, who passed away soon after the sessions, carried a lot of the percussive role with his strumming, and added in some standout solos. There’s some especially nice guitar/voice interplay on “Little Red Rooster” one of the few times here when Boutté calls on his funkier R&B side.
True, it would have been nice to hear an original song here, since Boutté’s written a local standard or two himself. But this is above all a singer’s album, and you’re unlikely to hear a better vocal disc this year.