Marva Wright, Heartbreakin’ Woman (Tipitina’s Records)

Marva Wright’s debut album may be called Heartbreakin’ Woman, and the cover photo may picture her lookin’ mean in a black leather outfit, but once you get to “Walk Around Heaven All Day,” it’s definitely been established that she began singing in church. And with this voice, she could fill a cathedral.

The element of utmost importance in producing a satisfying first release for Wright had to be a careful choice of material. This seems to have been accomplished with Wright penning four originals—”Heartbreakin’ Woman,” “Bluesiana Mama,” “Let’s Make Love,” and “Since You Came Into My Life.” They introduce Wright as a blues singer from Louisiana, and one who knows both funk and sophistication.

There were a few too-often-heard selections here, such as “St. James Infirmary,” which could have been replaced by a myriad of more obscure tunes just begging to be heard again. Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying” works better, and though the original shall never be topped, Wright does a good job on a great tune.

Also important for Wright is that she didn’t rely heavily on some obvious role models, in particular Chicago blues queen Koko Taylor and the raucous Etta James. Though heading in the direction of the soul/gospel sounds of Aretha Franklin is a natural for Wright, and could have been more thoroughly incorporated.

A variety of studio musicians—mostly names New Orleanians would recognize—are employed for the session, which was recorded locally. Absolutely essential is that organist/pianist Sammy Berfect, previously known best in the gospel world, is right there with Wright. His empathy for her phrasing and stylings, as well as his solid command of the keyboards, complement both the singer and the band. Good horn arrangements, with rhythmic fills and empty spaces, add important accents, as do the background vocals, which include the voice of Juanita Brooks.

Marva Wright should be (and is!) pleased with her initial jump into the recording industry. She’s got a good jump off the starting block with Heartbreakin’ Woman.