SANDY ROSS, Portraits of Innocence, (SLR).
Sandy Ross is an excellent singer with a big, soulful voice who has been entertaining Los Angeles audiences for many years with her original songs and bluesy covers. She does both on this great solo record, filled with her own songs as well as some nice renditions of traditionals, such as "St. James Infirmary." Strongly supported by the superb musicianship of Tim Emmons on upright bass and Jeff Gold on acoustic guitar, and produced by Ed Tree with Sandy, this is a good collection of songs from an artist who really knows what she's doing. --Paul Zollo
(Note: This review also appeared in the National Academy of Songwriters paper, Songtalk - Vol.4, Issue 4, June 1996.)
SANDY ROSS, Coloring Outside the Lines, (SLR).
For those of you have been griping that there are no true voices in the folk music world anymore, gripe no more. Sandy Ross is back. And as other writers have noted, Sandy Ross is the real thing. Well-known in L.A. folk music circles for years, she’s emerging onto the national scene with her third album, Coloring Outside The Lines.
Sandy Ross is a gifted, versatile songwriter and a powerful singer who always sounds entirely committed to her material, whether it be an expression of outrage, as in her poignant song about the Oklahoma City bombing, "How Was It Justified?," an expression of desperation, as in Mary Ann, for expressions of guilty pleasures in "Five Coins In," which humorously covers her allegiance to video poker. She’s one of those rare songwriters capable of writing in a rainbow of styles, effortlessly blending blues, jazz, folk, soul and pop, and sounding perfectly at home in each. She writes songs such as the heartrending Kansas Skies or the funny, bluesy "Don’t Call Me Late For Dinner," which both resound like timeless classics, as if they belong to the ages.
The album was produced by Sandy with Ed Tree, and together they did a superb job of finding a distinct and appropriate environment for each song. Many luminaries of the folk music world are here contributing their musicianship, including Jeff Gold, whose fluid acoustic guitar licks sparkle brightly throughout the album, as well as acoustic bassist Timothy Emmons, who also conducted and arranged beautiful string parts for many of the songs. Saxman Jerry Peterson leads a great R&B-fueled horn section that is the engine that drives Coloring, Taking’ It Slow and others, while Skip Edwards’ organ playing on "Something That I Didn’t Know" achieves the kind of visceral wild mercury sound that Dylan used to seek from organists such as Al Kooper and Garth Hudson.
A chief highlight of the album is the presence of the famed vocal group The Mighty Echoes, who provide the perfect doo-wop punctuation to "Don’t Call Me Late For Dinner," an enchanting and funny homage to food that is perfect for radio play. (Programmers, take note!) Other highlights include "I Remembered A Song," which is the an inspirational closer for this album, powered by a duet with Robb (Rabbit) MacKay and the rich sound of a 30-voice choir.
The title song, "Coloring Oustide Of The Lines" is prefaced by a spoken recollection that explains her natural inclination to move beyond the arbitrary boundaries society sets for us all. It’s an ideal metaphor for all creative artists brave enough to play by their own rules. Sandy Ross has been bravely making her own music for years, writing songs, playing shows, producing and releasing albums, and driving her van around American to let people hear her work. As we collectively creep towards the edge of the millennium, not really knowing what comes next, Sandy Ross' respect for the traditions of folk music and her willingness to expand the boundaries is especially welcome.
Here’s hoping her true voice doesn’t go unheard. ---Paul Zollo