Review by Brad Walseth
Singer Josie Falbo is a knockout. Just a matter of seconds into the soaring Jim Trompeter-produced/arranged opening track "What You Do To Me" and you'll be wondering just where this wonderful vocalist has been all your life. Well, the answer is you've probably heard her on commercials for companies like McDonalds, Mr. Clean, Green Giant, Budweiser and more, as well as on film and television soundtracks, with the Lakeside Singers and from her legendary performances in churches. Starting to sing at age 19 months (!), Falbo grew up in Chicago's Little Italy, won voice scholarships, sang solo at the Lyric Opera and released a single for Vee-Jay Records in 1963 before becoming a staple on the jingle and church scene. On the aptly titled Taylor Street, Falbo looks back at her lifetime of singing - displaying her breathtaking vocal talents across a wide range of styles, including sparkling pop, heartfelt R&B, jazz, gospel and even opera. If there was any justice in this world, the strong opening track, with shimmering work by Trompeter and saxophonist Jim Gailoreto and an absolutely hair-raising vocal performance would be a hit, and I am hoping radio programmers get on board. But lest you think Falbo can only shine in one genre, she follows up this pop gem with two straight ahead jazz tracks: a hard-swinging "Thou Swell" - with superb scatting, and a sublime take on the Gershwin's "Little Jazz Bird" - where Falbo's voice combines with Jon Negus' flute to produce a truly blissful experience.
A judgement of an artist can often be colored by the quality of the musicians who appear with her, and in Falbo's case the list of well known musicians is impressive. Howard Levy, Laurence Hobgood, Orbert Davis, Larry Gray, Bobby Lewis, Bob Perna, Bobby Schiff, Phil Gratteau, Alejo Poveda, Ernie Denov, "Hambone" Cameron and many more appear on these tracks. On the gospel-inflected "Pretty Blue Eyes," Falbo's powerful and chill-inducing voice is backed by a choir of some of Chicago's best singers, including Joanie Pallatto and Nanette Frank. Falbo even shows songwriting skills on the solid R&B-flavored pop original "Love Found Me (Just in Time)." Plenty more delights include a jaunty "The Very Thought of You," a stirring rendition of "At Last," Jobim's "Triste" (in Portugese), memorable takes on Mercer and Styne, a couple more strong R&B/pop tunes ("Fragile, Handle with Care" is another hit). The album ends with a double whammy of "Ave Maria" followed by "Oh Happy Day" - both with backing from the Lakeside Singers - that will fill the darkest heart with the spirit. Throughout it all, it is Falbo's glorious voice that will bring you back to this recording time and time again. Here is hoping this compelling Southport release will serve notice to the world about this humble, yet astonishingly talented singer.