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Shortly after writing a review of Lucy Woodward's second album "...Is Hot & Bothered", which in part criticised her handling by Atlantic records following her debut album, I was delighted to receive a message from her management. This delight came in many forms; first that Lucy should be blessed with such supportive and enthusiastic management after the way her record companies had treated her in the past. There was also hope that one day we may get to see Lucy in the UK, which is a relief as I'm simply not rich enough to fly to the US to see her live, much as I would love to.
Perhaps most importantly was the great news that there was a new album soon to come, which her management rated as even better than "...Is Hot & Bothered", something I would have believed impossible, such is the quality of that album. Secondly, it brought news that Lucy has now found herself with major label support once again, having signed with Verve/Universal. My only hope is that they treat her better than Atlantic records did. But I was more interested in the seeming impossibility that "Hooked!" is a better album than "...Is Hot & Bothered".
The opening track "He Got Away" is certainly encouraging, opening with a driving drum beat and the brass section. This is a wonderfully up-tempo jazzy tune with a nice change of pace part way through to keep the listener interested and with Woodward's husky voice complimenting things perfectly. There's a real feel of the old age of jazz during America's prohibition era and it's a song you can see working beautifully as a background to a gangster film where the characters meet up in a bar. It's a wonderful opening to what it sure to be a great album.
"Sans Souci" is a cover of a Peggy Lee song and was so well done that even Peggy Lee's granddaughter praised Woodward's version. It's a gorgeous song, with Woodward's slightly breathy vocals working well with the cha-cha-cha musical backing. It's the kind of song that needs to be listened to with candles around and letting it drift over you.
The string intro to "Purple Heart" sounds like something that would have been more at home in the 1800s, but once this is out of the way, this is a simple and beautiful song. It's a simple ballad, with a little guitar and Woodward's amazing voice and a string arrangement coming in later on. It's another song that should be listened to in silence and semi-darkness, as it's wonderfully relaxing and stunningly beautiful.
From the moment the CD was delivered, I was intrigued by the song "I Wan'na Be Like You (The Monkey Song)" on the track listing, as there was only one song I could think it would be and I was wondering how Woodward would make it work. I was right about what song it was and the answer to the other question was that Woodward makes it work wonderfully. Suddenly a song from a Disney cartoon has been turned into a 1930s sounding jazz classic, yet Woodward has retained the fun of the film version. I feel like I should be dancing a Charleston or something similar every time I hear the song, regardless of whether I'm in public or not. Given my dancing skills, this song is liable to result in my falling over and breaking my nose, but it could be the only broken nose ever sustained with a smile, so good is this version of the song.
There's a pleasingly retro sound to "Another Woman", with the double bass giving it a jazz feel, but the early synthesiser makes it sound a little more modern. Either way, this is a toe tapping modern jazz number with a slight pop influence. It's a song that drives along very nicely and has quite a summery feel, despite the lyrical content.
Next up is "Babies", which is one of my favourites from the album. It's got a similar idea to Natasha Bedingfield's "I Wanna Have Your Babies", but is a far better song. This is a beautiful pop ballad with Woodward's voice soaring over the musical backing and having just enough yearning that I can't work out whether this is just a song, or a confession. The very last line of the song is humorous enough that it always raises a smile, but if you were Woodward's partner, you couldn't listen to this song without being certain of what she expects from you.
"Slow Recovery" is a mixture of delight and disappointment for me. The disappointment is that the song was featured on her previous album, so it's not entirely original; the delight is that it's a gorgeous song. Given that the previous album had a limited release, I can see why this song deserved a wider audience. It's a wonderfully smoky ballad, simply and beautifully crafted, with wonderful orchestration behind a voice imbued with just the right amount of regret to fit the lyrics and a slightly husky edge that defies understanding of why any man would be dumb enough to leave her feeling the way she's singing about.
"Ragdoll" is a wonderful mix of jazz and blues and it's another song that deserves to be listened to in a darkened room, ideally with a cigarette burning next to you to set the mood. It's a beautiful, slow paced jazz-blues number, with Woodward's smoky jazz tones combining perfectly with the music and helping the listener just drift away on the beauty of the whole thing.
There's an intriguing change of sound for "This Empty Room", with an accordion giving the song a slow polka feel early on, which later expands into a little more of an oom-pah type sound and there is then a wistful instrumental break in the latter half. The music in parts gives the song a lovely jaunty little sound to it and whilst it's not one of my favourites as it changes pace a little too often to be entirely consistent, it is wonderfully performed.
"Too Much to Live For" was also a song that appeared on Woodward's "...Is Hot and Bothered" album, but it didn't sound anything like this before. What was a foot tapping up-tempo pop number with jazz undertones before has suddenly become a slowed down, stripped won jazz standard. I loved the original version, but this one also works well, Woodward's voice to the fore and a jaunty little double bass riff all the way through. It's still a foot tapper and the lyric I loved from the original version "I'm tired of singing the blues / That ain't really blues, they're just bad excuses" sticks out even further. On a first play of the album, I thought I preferred the original, but after repeated plays, I can appreciate the sheer beauty of this version as well and it's at least a tie now.
Woodward has written several songs for film soundtracks over the years and "Leave It To You" shows why she would be so highly prized in this area. It's a wonderfully crafted pop ballad, with a simple musical arrangement with piano and strings and it shows off exactly how good Woodward's voice is. This is a song that, like much of the album, needs to be listened to in a darkened room, ideally with noise cancelling headphones, so that there is nothing between the listener and the music. There is absolute beauty in the simplicity here.
The album ends with a cover of Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust". This is a beautiful way to finish the album, again with a simplicity that works so well. It starts with a slow beat and then picks up and gets slightly more of a jazz feel. Whatever the tempo, the vocal soars over all and it's a lovely way to finish an album of what should be known as modern jazz standards if there is any justice.
With Hooked!" Lucy Woodward has completed the transformation her "...Is Hot and Bothered" album started. Long gone is the pop diva of 2003s "While You Can", replaced with a jazz and big band singer. How you feel about this may well depend on how you feel about jazz generally. Personally, I didn't like it all that much at first, but repeated plays have shown the album to have much more depth than I first realised and the sound is a perfect showcase for the great voice that Lucy Woodward has. I'd reserve judgement on whether it's a better album than the previous one, as I loved that album, but I would certainly say that "Hooked!" is a lot more consistent, as it maintains its quality far longer than "...Is Hot and Bothered" did, even if I feel the former had more stand out tracks.
I stand by my position held from previous reviews that everyone should own a Lucy Woodward album and she should be far better known than she is. Which album will depend on your viewpoint. If you're a fan of pop music and would like something different, then "...Is Hot and Bothered" is probably the best starting point before moving onto the pure jazz sounds of "Hooked!". And move on you should, as this is quite simply a sublime album. Sadly, it's tough to get hold of, with cheapest prices of £6.49 on eBay or £7.75 on the Amazon Marketplace, including postage. But what you get for that money is 12 tracks and 46 minutes of sublime modern jazz, performed by someone at the top of their singing abilities and that makes it supreme value, even at those prices.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 He Got Away
2 Sans Souci
3 Purple Heart
4 I Wan'na Be Like You (Monkey Song)
5 Another Woman
7 Slow Recovery
9 Me And This Empty Room
10 Too Much To Live For
11 Leave It To You