I’ve been a fan of Brenda Earle Stokes since her days as Brenda Earle (ie, back in high school in Sarnia, Ontario). She was (and remains) a few years younger than me, but we ran in similar circles during our teen years. She was recognized as a talented kid at the time, one you would be wise to watch and see where she went. Her career as a jazz pianist, singer, and composer has evolved dramatically over the years. She cut her teeth as a performer on cruise ships through most of her 20s, and in her 30s made herself a home in New York City. She released a few albums over the years, each a mix of original and cover songs, and you can see her mature and progress on each release.

These days, she juggles duties as an instructor (voice and piano), performer, and mother. She took a few years away from the writing and recording as marriage and motherhood eclipsed her life, but is now back into the musical swing and is in fine form. Brenda’s latest album (Right About Now, indie) goes pretty heavy into purely original songs, and some unique collaborations, writing lyrics for pieces by Dick Oatt and Egberto Gismonti. As a whole, the album carries itself wonderfully from song to song.

One of my personal favourites have to be the original track Baiao Em Minha Cabeca, where she scats wildly overtop some piano bop. It’s a strong percussive piece and lets Brenda demonstrate her voice in a new way. This one takes me right into a smoky basement jazz club, and I’m loving it. Another top track would be her take on Joe Jackson’s Got The Time. It’s funny, because she and I were both introduced to that song in the 90s when Anthrax covered it. She leaves the rock and metal at the door, and turns the familiar tune into something extraordinarily fun. It swings! If Paul Anka did this one, it would have sounded very similar to Brenda’s take. The last fave track that I’ll mention is another cover song, the title track (originally by supercomposer Ron Sexsmith). It’s a little sexy, it yearns, and Brenda delivers some powerful vocals.

Brenda assembled a phenomenal band for this album, and recorded it over 2 days. That speaks volumes to their skills as artists, and also to those of producer Matt Pierson. This is classic jazz with subtle pop overtones, and I can’t stop listening to it on my daily commute.

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