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The Tierney Sutton Band releases "American Road" on BFM Digital

You’ve undoubtedly heard these songs before, but we guarantee you’ve never heard them sung like this. On American Road (BFM Jazz, Sept. 6, 2011), the Tierney Sutton Band reimagines more than a dozen timeless songs that are woven deep into the American cultural fabric, songs as venerable as “America the Beautiful,” “Wayfaring Stranger” and “Amazing Grace” and as beloved as the early ’60s Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil gem “On Broadway.”

On American Road, Tierney and the band interpret Americana classics and pay tribute to some of the country’s most celebrated composers of all time, delivering dramatic, back-to-back readings of the Stephen Sondheim/Leonard Bernstein-penned West Side Story classics “Somewhere,” “Something’s Coming” and “Cool,” and a trio of consecutive Gershwin standards from the iconic musical Porgy and Bess: “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “Summertime” and “My Man’s Gone Now.”

For their ninth album, the Grammy-nominated vocalist and her band of 18 years leave preconceptions in the dust, taking instantly familiar, American-born compositions, deconstructing them and presenting them anew in their own inimitable way. After hearing the Tierney Sutton Band’s take on these cornerstones of the American lexicon, it may be impossible to imagine them performed any other way.

“We first started looking at an ‘America’-themed CD three or four years ago,” says Sutton, whose vocal style has been described as “soft as silk and smooth as fine bourbon” by the Chicago Sun Times. Circumstances led the group in a different direction at the time, the result being 2009’s Desire, which earned the group its third consecutive Grammy nomination for Best Vocal Jazz Album.

But the concept that ultimately gave rise to American Road stayed with Sutton and the band—Christian Jacob (piano), Kevin Axt (acoustic and electric bass), Trey Henry (acoustic and electric bass) and Ray Brinker (drums and percussion)—until, having spent countless days and nights traveling America’s roads and playing in her towns and cities, they were able to finally bring it to fruition. All of the arrangements on American Road were conceived by the entire band, which, said The New York Times, has “refined the kind of rapport that could only be achieved over time...providing a continuous flow of support, strength and inspiration.”

“This music has been ‘baking’ for several years,” says Sutton. “Because we arrange collaboratively and everyone has to feel good about an arrangement, it’s a tough process for things to get through to the final project. Some arrangements and ideas come together quickly, basically in a day or two, and others can take months or even years to put together. On this project there are some we started working on years before, some we worked on in the months leading up to the recording and a few we arranged in the studio.”

Produced by Elaine Martone, American Road finds Sutton applying her acrobatic, elastic, oft-times surprising vocal style to a range of material spanning traditional American folk songs (“Oh Shenandoah/The Water Is Wide”) to numbers that emanate from the Great American Songbook tunesmiths of the pre-rock 20th century (E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen’s “The Eagle and Me,” Jack Lawrence and Walter Gross’ “Tenderly”). One innovation honed by the Tierney Sutton band on American Road is their use of two bassists. Says Tierney, “The clear sound of the two basses (often one electric and one acoustic) is new on this project. The last three CDs have used two bassists, but there is a more guitaristic and pronounced presence here.”

Indeed, as American Road unfolds, each piece of the travelogue reveals nuances and depths previously unexplored. In a recent interview with the Digital Jazz News blog, Sutton summed up her experience making the album. The music, she said, “sort of flowed out of us, and, she added, “We walked out of the studio feeling that it is our best work to date.”

After one listen to American Road, it will be impossible to disagree!