Sasha Masakowski’s third album may be a surprise for those who’ve heard the last one, 2012’s Wishes.
That disc was largely Brazilian and cabaret music, with the arrangements kept intimate and her voice close-miked to make the most of her siren-like presence. On this follow up—recorded in a mere five hours, a few days after this year’s Mardi Gras—she’s backed by a raucous trad-jazz band, doing mostly lesser-known songs from the early 20th century, and the no-frills recording doesn’t put her or anyone else upfront.
Masakowski’s voice is naturally elegant, even when she gets playful on “Les Oignons” (a Sidney Bechet number about guess what). “Wait Till the Sun Shines Nelly” gets a melancholy intro that infuses the mood even after it revs up to the usual brisk pace. She tones down the gospel fervor that usually accompanies “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” and makes it something akin to a torch song. And on the two actual torch songs, “Until the Real Thing Comes Along” and “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” she’s properly flirtatious.
I can live without the slide whistles that the band sticks into a few songs, but the arrangements otherwise keep the necessary mix of respect and irreverence, with Russell Welch taking some fast and fluid guitar solos. Like Masakowski’s last album, this includes a lengthy version of “St. James Infirmary,” but they couldn’t be more different. The Wishes version is fairly traditional. This one turns the tempo into a drunken stumble and takes more liberties with the interpretation, turning the Cab Calloway “Hi-de-ho’s” into a mourning cry and breaking into a wordless wail as the band speeds up at the finale.
Just goes to show that a gifted singer can still take a well-known song—even one of the two or three best-known in the New Orleans canon—and individualize it.