During Carmen McRae’s long and illustrious career, she released over sixty albums and was nominated for seven Grammy Awards. Carmen was one of the most influential jazz singers in the history of music. Although she’s best known as a jazz singer, there’s much more to Carmen’s career than just jazz. Inspired by the great Billie Holliday, Carmen was a versatile singer, just as comfortable singing popular music as jazz. Her voice had a soulfulness, bringing a song to life. During her time at the legendary Blue Note Records between 1975 and 1977, Carmen McRae’s music changed again. It took on a jazz-funk style. The second studio album Carmen McRae recorded was 1976s Can’t Hide Love, the followup to 1975s I Am Music and the live album Carmen McRae Live At the American Music Hall. Can’t Hide Love, which will be released by BBR Records on 27th August 2012, was produced by Dale Oehler and features some of the hottest jazz musician of the time. Before I tell you about the music on Carmen McRae’s Can’t Hide Love, I’ll tell you the background to the album.

When Carmen McRae had signed to Blue Note, both she and music was changing. While Carmen’s voice changed as she grew older, music was changed rapidly. By the mid-seventies, disco ruled the airwaves, but Carmen McRae was a jazz singer through and through. Unlike other artists, Carmen wasn’t for changing. Regardless of musical fashions, Carmen was going to sing jazz. For her second studio album for Blue Note Records, Can’t Hide Love, this would be jazz, but with a twist. Carmen was going to cover ten songs, doing so in a jazz style.

For Can’t Hide Love, Carmen chose tracks that included Earth, Wind and Fire’s Can’t Hide, James Taylor’s Music, Eric Carmen’s All By Myself, Bill WIthers’ Wish You Well and Gerwin’s The Man I Love. These ten covers would be produced by Dale Oehler, along with a band that included some of the hottest musicians of the seventies.

Among the musicians that would accompany Carmen McRae on Can’t Hide Love,  would be a rhythm section of drummer Harvey Mason, bassist Joe Mondragon and guitarist Dennis Budimir, Larry Carlton and Marshall Otwell. Pianist Artie Kane, keyboard player Dave Gruisin and Joe Sample were joined by string and horn section. The horn section included trumpeters Blue Mitchell and Snooky Young, while George Bohannon played trombone and Ernie Watts and Don Menza played saxophone. Can’t Hide Love was recorded live at A&M Recording Studios in Los Angeles over four days in May 1976. With Carmen McRae backed by an all-star band on Can’t Hide Love, you’d think the album would prove popular with Carmen’s legion of fans? 

On the release of Can’t Hide Love later in 1976, the album failed to trouble the charts. The only single released from Can’t Hide Love, Only Women Bleed failed to chart. It was a disappointing way for Carmen McRae to end her time at Blue Note Records. However, should Can’t Hide Love have fared better on its release? That’s what I’ll now tell you, when I tell you about the music on Can’t Hide Love.

Opening Can’t Hide Love is the title-track, Can’t Hide My Love, covered by Earth, Wind and Fire track. Never will have you heard the track sung like this. The track’s slowed way down, with growling horns, a punchy rhythm section, percussion and woodwind accompanying Carmen, Her delivery of the vocal mixes power and passion, bringing new life and meaning to Skip Scarborough’s lyrics. Carmen’s vocal is swathed in a dramatic arrangement, thanks to the horns and rhythm section who supply the energy and drama. Later, Carmen scats her way through the lyrics, giving the song her own twist, as she totally transforms a familiar track.

Cole Porter’s The Man I Love allows Carmen to return to a sound she’s much more familiar with. Keyboards accompany Carmen’s heartfelt vocal, before her band become an old style jazz band. Slow lush strings, subtle rasping horns, a standup bass and piano are key to the arrangement, as Carmen’s deliver is slow, deliberate and totally heartfelt. There’s elements of Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holliday in her vocal, as she gives a beautiful rendition of Cole Porter’s classic.

Only Women Bleed was the only single released from Can’t Hide Love. It controversially featured on Alice Cooper’s Welcome To My Nightmare album. This is a much better version, sung with emotion and passion. As the track opens, it’s just the piano, drums and rhythm section that you hear. Then a burst of guitar gives way to Carmen’s vocal. She sings around her band, her delivery slow and full of emotion. Her vocal has a weary sound, as if she’s lived and experienced the lyrics. Meanwhile, strings sweep in, as the arrangement grows, with a sizzling guitar solo, pounding rhythm section and strings building up the drama. What makes this such a good track is Carmen’s impassioned vocal.

Bill WIthers wrote I Wish You Well, which is given a real jazzy makeover. The track bursts into life with growling horns, rhythm section and keyboards combining. When Carmen’s vocal enters, it takes centre-stage. Her vocal is a combination of sincerity, joy and power. Then the band show just what they’re capable of. Blazing horns kick loose, joining the rhythm section, percussion and guitars, as Carmen and her band drive the track along, to it’s dramatic, energetic ending.

All By Myself is one of these standards that’s been covered my many artists. These cover versions vary in quality and sometimes, come across as sugar coated. Not this version though. It’s very different to the overblown original. Carmen sings unaccompanied as the track opens. She has your attention. Suddenly, you hear a very different side to the track. Keyboards, piano and lush strings enter, with subtle bursts of jazzy guitar. The band allow Carmen’s emotive, heartbroken vocal to take center-stage. For six minutes the arrangement builds up. Key to the success and sound of the arrangement is the piano and lush strings. They help transform the track, turning the track into a beautiful, emotive song about love and loss.

By 1976, when Carmen recorded Can’t Hide Love, James Taylor was at the peak of his AOR popularity. He wrote Music, a track from his 1975 album Gorilla. It’s another track which Carmen brings new life and meaning to the track. Even if you’re not a fan of James Taylor, you’ll like this version of music. There’s a real seventies sound to the arrangement, with lush strings, joining the keyboards, guitars and rhythm section. Carmen’s vocal mixes warmth, feeling and bursts of power. This is a track perfectly suited to her vocal and after you’ve heard this version, listen to the original and see which version you prefer. Me, I prefer Carmen’s version.

Lost Up In Loving You was originally recorded by Kenny Rankin and here, Carmen takes the song to another level. Her delivery and phrasing is peerless, her voice laden with feeling and joy. The arrangement has an understated sound, with just keyboards, percussion, guitars and the rhythm section augmented by synths and strings. Dave Gruisin’s arrangement is the perfect foil for what’s one of Carmen’s best vocals on Can’t Hide Love.

Chick Corea wrote You’re Everything, which was arranged by Thad Jones. His arrangement mixes jazz and Latin music, as the band kick loose. Growling horns, a pounding rhythm section, percussion and keyboards combine, with the arrangement building and building. Like Carmen’s vocal, it grows in power, taking a detour via Latin music during a breakdown. After that, Carmen and her band mix power and passion, as they demonstrate their considerable talents, fusing jazz and Latin during a homage to a jazz stalwart Chick Corea.

Would You Believe is another of the slower songs on Can’t Hide Love. It also allows Carmen’s vocal to take centre-stage, as she delivers a slow, emotive and smooth vocal against a much more understated arrangement. Woodwind, rasping horns, percussion, piano and strings combine to accompany Carmen. Accompanied by a piano, Carmen’s reading of the lyrics is tinged bravado, sadness and emotion, as She breathes life and meaning into old standard.

Closing Can’t Ride Love is A Child Is Born, written and arranged by Thad Jones. This is another of the slower ballads, something Carmen is so comfortable with. Her tender, heartfelt vocal is accompanied by standup bass, keyboards and lush strings.  Rasping horns punctuate the arrangement, which apart from the keyboards has a vintage sounding arrangement. As the track progresses, Carmen’s vocal grows in power and emotion, as she delivers another beautiful vocal on this pensive, thoughtful track. It’s a pleasing way to close Can’t Hide Love.

When Carmen McRae released Can’t Hide Love in 1976, it was twenty-one years after she released her debut album Torchy! on Decca in 1955. Since then, she’d released nearly thirty jazz albums, each with her own unique jazz sound. On Can’t Hide Love, Carmen does just this, mixing vintage jazz with elements of jazz funk on ten cover versions. She opens Can’t Hide Love with a cover of the Skip Scarborough penned Can’t Hide Love, before mixing standards from Cole Porter and Gershwin, with tracks written by Eric Carmen, James Taylor and Bill Withers. Many of these tracks are given meaning by Carmen, especially Can’t Hide Love, Music and All By Myself. Indeed, Carmen changes my opinion of All By Myself. Previously, I found this an overblown track, akin to an overdose of saccharine. Not now. Here, Carmen brought beauty and meaning to the track. Lost Up In Loving You sees Carmen transform a track originally recorded by Kenny Rankin and again, she changes my opinion of the track, with a stunning vocal. A Child Is Born, which has a really pensive, thoughtful sound, seems a fitting way to close Can’t Hide Love, which will be rereleased on 27th August 2012. Overall, Can’t Hide Love is an album that’s a good introduction to one of the great jazz singers of the twentieth century. Standout Tracks: Can’t Hide Love, Only Woman Bleed, Music and Lost Up In Loving You. 


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