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Her second album with producer Craig Street, New Moon Daughter was the apotheosis of Cassandra Wilson’s signature blend of jazz and Americana. Her rich, velvety voice is rooted in the dark, loamy soil of her native Mississippi and as humid as a Deep South summer, while also bearing the sophistication of a singer who had been entrenched in the New York scene since the 1980s. The combination makes for some powerful performances, as on her haunting read of “Strange Fruit,” or her urgent take on Son House’s “Death Letter,” both of which bristle with sharp-edged textures and anxious rhythms.
There are some exquisitely beautiful moments here, as well, with Wilson’s sultry contralto dipping into the U2 songbook for a gorgeous version of “Love Is Blindness” and offering a beyond-intimate rendition of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.” She also personalizes pop standards such as “Sky Lark” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and even makes something sexy out of “Last Train to Clarksville.” And her own compositions are as compelling as anything here, including the lovely Biblical tale “Solomon Sang” and the offbeat but completely engaging “Find Him.”
The perfect combination of producer, artist and musicians — bassist Lonnie Plaxico, guitarists Kevin Breit, Brandon Ross and Chris Whitley, pedal steel player Gib Wharton, cornetist Graham Haynes and percussionist Cyro Baptista among them — New Moon Daughter captured a magical chapter in Wilson’s wide-ranging discography and won her a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance. — Bob Weinberg