Album Review

Cassandra Wilson, 'Silver Pony'

November 8, 2010

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Every time Cassandra Wilson puts out a record, it’s tempting to proclaim it the best one she’s ever done. At 55, her husky, honey-tinged vocals are richer than ever, and her style — which blends jazz, Delta blues, and country — now seems completely natural rather than risky and innovative. The program for “Silver Pony’’ is a balanced mix of originals, standards, and rearranged pop songs. Recorded in front of an audience at Piety Street Studios in New Orleans, the album exudes both intimacy and immediacy. She gets deep inside songs like “Lover Come Back to Me’’ and “Forty Days and Forty Nights,’’ wresting the melodies right off the staff and replacing them with her own harmonic inventions and impeccable sense of timing. At the same time, this recording is about the musicians — a freshly assembled band that puts a premium on Marvin Sewell’s exquisite guitar lines, Lekan Babalola’s funky conga slapping, and Jonathan Batiste’s bluesy piano playing, all of which come together on extended readings of “Went Down to St. James Infirmary’’ and Charlie Patton’s “Saddle Up My Pony.’’ To close things out, she brings in none other than John Legend for a duet on the seductive “Watch the Sunrise.’’ (Out tomorrow) STEVE GREENLEE

ESSENTIAL “Forty Days and Forty Nights’’