Album Review: Elisa Caleb – Carry Me Home

Spring is upon us and the welcome sound of dulcet jazz hangs in the air like the sweet smell of cherry blossom. Mama’s Gun ushered in the new season with their funky jazzi-fied debut album Routes to Riches in early March. April has more treats in store as Caribbean/Filipina lovely, Elisa Caleb releases Carry Me Home: 10 wonderfully arranged standards and originals layered with Caleb’s pretty, demure vocals. Carry Me Home is everything you’d want and expect from a decent vocal jazz album but not nearly as dull as that description might sound. Elisa, husband Jo Caleb, man-about-town producer Femi Temowo and their consistently good consortium of musicians and backing singers create a thoroughly enjoyable, laidback listening experience.

Elisa has a gorgeous vulnerability about her vocals that Jo is careful to emphasise by keeping the arrangements restrained, with enough warmth to complement that which is present in the songstress’ voice. In addition, there’s an attention-grabbing richness to Jo’s guitar-playing, most evident on tracks such as ‘Alone Together’.

Carry Me Home includes two compositions by Jo; ‘Bring Back Spring’ – sounding as authentic, poignant and instantly pleasing as anything from the great American songbook – and ‘The Wind’, an acoustic inspirational/Gospel number that is already a firm crowd-favourite when the Calebs perform live. Nevertheless, the challenge of doing an album of mainly covers is to keep the interpretations fresh and appealing. Elisa and co. succeed on more than one front. For a start, the song selections are commendable. It is an education being introduced to certain tracks, whilst others are familiar without being too obvious.

Even when Carry Me Home does stray onto well-worn territory – ‘Swing Low’ for example – the arrangement is sufficiently distinctive to bring something new to the table. A deceptively simple approach is taken with Elisa’s version of the old Negro spiritual; soulful, mellow but most definitely effective. Throw in some additional lyrics courtesy of Mr Caleb, stirring but understated backing vocals by Anna Omak, Tola Okogwu and Fola Olatuja and ‘Swing Low’ is an album highlight. Elisa also does a creditable rendition of ‘Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye’ – a brave choice and worthy of mention not least because the definitive version was made by the formidable Ella Fitzgerald, to whom Caleb has been compared. She is no carbon-copy however, ultimately sounding like herself.

Carry Me Home features some of the cream of the live-music-scene-crop, percussionist Troy Miller for instance, which is indicative of the record’s quality. Rather than being an ‘either/or’ kind of artist, Elisa’s recorded material whets your appetite enough for a live gig, without holding back so much as not to do the singer justice. It would have been a bonus if Carry Me Home featured a few more mid-uptempo to vary the pace a bit more but it is not a fatal blow to the overall appreciation of the album.

As is often the case, the modern era of vocal jazz has been mostly dominated by our friends from across the Atlantic; Norah Jones, Madeleine Peyroux, Melody Gardot and Michael Bublé being some of the most successful. If Elisa carries on her current trajectory and continues to build on the promise of Carry Me Home, she could quite easily be a serious UK contender.

–Tola Ositelu