Singer-pianist Diane Schuur joins the growing list of jazz musicians who've found inspiration in country music, including Wynton Marsalis, who recently released two CDs with Willie Nelson. Such collaborations go back as far as 1930 when the genres' founding fathers, Jimmie Rodgers and Louis Armstrong, recorded "Blue Yodel No. 9" together.
On the Nashville-recorded "The Gathering," Schuur stretches out by turning to the golden age of country songwriting from the 1950s through the 1970s, including tunes by Hank Cochran, Nelson, Merle Haggard, Roger Miller and Kris Kristofferson.
Like the best country singers, Schuur focuses on the storytelling and sticks closely to the melody. She varies the dynamics and bends and stretches the notes, for example, closing the Patsy Cline hit "Why Can't He Be You" by holding the final "he" for nearly 10 seconds. She keeps her impressive jazz chops in check, using them more as embellishments, as on the end of Haggard's "Today I Started Loving You Again" (with Vince Gill on backup vocals), where she briefly engages in some call-and-response wordless scatting with guitarist Larry Carlton.
Schuur sings with heartfelt emotion on such Tammy Wynette tunes as "Til I Can Make It On My Own" and "Til I Get It Right," but most of the tracks are slow- to medium-tempo ballads that eventually tend to overlap one another. Gill and Alison Krauss are largely wasted providing harmony vocals on two tracks rather than engaging in real duets with Schuur.
This is an authentic crossover album in which Schuur shuns obvious gimmicks like singing with a twang or using pedal steel guitar. Country fans should enjoy hearing favorite songs performed by a singer with jazz sensibilities, while jazz aficionados might gain new appreciation for country songwriting.
CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: Schuur ends Nelson's soothing, easy-paced "Healing Hands of Time" with a powerful instrumental jolt provided by Kirk Whalum's muscular, R&B-fused tenor saxophone.