Review by Brad Walseth
I haven't been able to quit listening to this one - the new release from Southern California singer Mary Ann Douglas called Unfinished Business is an utter delight for those who love female jazz singers like I do. But unlike the plethora of chanteuse out there singing standards, Douglas writes her own lyrics and music � and both are quite outstanding!
Backed by some of the best musicians in Southern California: Bob Magnusson on acoustic bass, Jim Plank on percussion and Rob Whitlock on keyboards, this recording also features the talented John Rekevics on sax and flute and the incredible talents of guitarist Mundell Lowe - who also arranged and conducted, Unfinished Business is a bit of a throwback to an era of songs with meaning, played, produced and sung well. This is the fourth release for Douglas, who doesn't sing live much, but prefers to concentrate on studio recording, but one can hope it will open some eyes to the talent of this exceptional lady.
The CD starts off with "Move Over Blues" and you are immediately taken in by the fabulous production (recording was done at Spragueland Studios in Encinitas). Thankfully no in-your-face scatting here, rather Mary Ann's voice reminds me a bit of Carmen McRae and/or Blossom Dearie with her expressive understatement, and wonderful warm timbre. Highly intelligent and penetrating lyrics like:
There are tricks you can learn.
There are rules you can bend.
You can rationalize,
And say you're still friends.
Whatever it takes,
You memorize well,
And use for the next time
With some left to sell.
make you realize this is no soppy pushover, but a smart and sophisticated woman who understands the human condition better than any Lothario trying a cheap pick up line will ever know. Nor does the insight end here - all of these songs are marvelous gems gathered one presumes through living life with your eyes wide open even as you stumble and fall.
"Something About the Moon" comes next and introduces a bit of bossa nova. Lowe's arrangements here recall the great Astrud Gilberto sessions of '60s complete with Rekevic's tasty flute, while Douglas' voice hints a bit at some of Basia's better work. Again I quote the lyrics:
All of the life that you dare,
All the fear that has led you
Just some of the great lyrics throughout the whole recording, these lines are delivered in warm, heartfelt manner that sparkles in the singer/composer's sheer honesty. I can truly understand how so many men may have fallen for this siren's charms, as there is nothing sexier than an intelligent woman. Douglas' feeling for strong melodic hooks is easily apparent - and I dare anyone to listen and not have several of these tunes not stick in their head upon first listen. These are mostly all songs that deal with the longing for ("Reverie") and the mysteries of that strange emotion Love ("Never Ever, My Love"); never forgetting the heartache ("In Better Times") that sometimes results. "Dancin' with the Devil" is a catchy pop song that could crossover on either the pop or country charts and be better than anything else out there right now; while the title track is blues deluxe. "Before Life Got to You" is a humorous blues (about Life and growing older) shuffle that allows legendary guitarist Lowe and Rekevics a chance to stretch a bit, while pointing out some rather salient points to some of our younger counterparts.
Throughout the whole CD, the band provides clean, clear and sensitive support - a welcome respite from the cacophonous backdrops often shattering many modern singers' presentation. Witty, but not bitter - there are so many superb songs on this album that I can't begin to single out highlights, although the gentle bittersweet chanteuse-like "What Kind of Love is This" is currently electrifying my synapses. Songs like "Look What You've Done Now" and "When Will I Get I Over You" take us back to a bygone time of melody, lyricism, graceful charm, and romance - elements that have been seemingly lost in our modern age. I heartily entreat listeners to pick up a copy of "Unfinished Business" and let Mary Ann Douglas fill your life with moonlight and roses for a while.