Simply put….Kathy Kosins is a singer’s singer. With the backing of a wonderful group….she has taken these songs and transformed them into compelling new musical short stories. From an uptempo swinger to a slow sultry ballad…Kathy’s tribute to these legendary ladies is tasteful, sophisticated and as good as it gets from the first note to the last. You want a great listening experience….look no further than Kathy Kosins…. —Eric Cohen, WAER
Highland Park-born/Detroit-raised Kathy Kosins started out arranging and singing backup vocals for Motown’s Don Was in the 1980s before verging into the free-form outlook of jazz. That Motown soul is everywhere on her fifth solo album, To The Ladies Of Cool. Her vocals embed deeply in the groove between bluesy torch and jazz hip on songs once voiced memorably in the 1950s era of West Coast Cool, by the likes of Anita O’Day, Chris Connor, Julie London, and June Christy.
But don’t mistake this, her first Resonance Record, for a tribute album. She does a helluva lot more than cover the same territory. Her song selections alone are indicative of Kosins’ bottomless curiosity and attention to detail. She dug into some fairly expansive and obscure vaults to procure a lot of these songs, outside the usual commercial recordings anyone can tap into: Armed Forced Radio, Soundies, V-Discs… Out of hundreds of songs, she pulled up 20 then 10 that sang to her, including the swoon-and-fleck of Johnny Mandel’s instrumental, “Hershey Bar,” scatted on by O’Day.
Other singers would’ve made do with the written page, although she did study from original charts. Not Kosins, who is also a skilled, ASCAP-award-winning songwriter and record producer. She asked the original composer if she could pen the cutest little lyrics to elaborate on the chocoholic theme. To mostly a soft drum-piano-horn swish and swirl, Kosins slips in her lyrical treat — as if the words always belonged. And she scats too. The two highlights on this favorite song are the chocolatey horn solo and the vocalist’s contented beats. “MnMs can always melt in my mouth. I go for Pralines when I’m in the South. Indulgence is my middle name, no doubt. I’d love a Good ‘n Plenty ending. So thrill me once again with those Hershey’s Kisses. If you’ll be my mister, I’ll be your Mrs. Stay where you are, I’d love another Hershey Bar.”
Mad props to the L.A. session musicians this session singer brought for the 2012 recording: pianist/musical director/arranger Tamir Hendelman, guitarist Graham Dechter (currently on tour with Eliane Elias), percussionist Bob Leatherbarrow, woodwinds player Steve Wilkerson, and Gilbert Castellanos (trumpet, flugelhorn). The entire record came out of Kosins’ multi-media concert.
The mark of a true talent is whether she can go it alone, so to speak. Kosins can. On more than one West Coast Cool track, she’s practically acapella — with barely a crisp percussive accompaniment introducing that smooth, deep, curvaceous voice. Vaguely referencing a host of soul sisters from another era, this modern-day singer one-ups the operating value considerably. She melts into the song in “Learnin’ The Blues,” matching the easy swing of pianist Hendelman note for note, tapping into trespasses bold and real.
She raises the level of intrigue in an otherwise tap-happy, “Free And Easy.” Talk about obscure, this one by Henry Mancini and Bobby Troup also allows guitarist Dechter to travel a little outside the casual friendliness of a nostalgic commercial ditty. His radio-free vintage tenderness rings like the coolest church bells.
“November Twilight” will bring down the house. There is music here, played very softly, pushed into the background by the awe of her hushed and hallowed reverie. Kosins can strip away every cold veneer with barely a breath. She embodies ballad, torch, and the emotionalism in the one-room intimacy of quarter jazz. It’s the same on “Where Are You?” — heightened in solitude and Brazilian power by Hendelman. She jiggles the handle of every other lyrical turn, in barely hidden notes.
These 1950s West Coast Cool classics definitely melt in her mouth.