By Bobby Reed | Published February 2015
Singing should be fun. It’s a maxim that many vocalists have forgotten. There are plenty of anguished balladeers and angry, soul-bearing belters out there, but the vocal trio Duchess is a beacon of jovial esprit. The program on Duchess’ self-titled debut includes such smile-inducing treats as The Chordettes’ 1958 pop hit “Lollipop” and the Gershwins’ spoof “Blah, Blah, Blah” (heard in the 1931 film Delicious). The healthy dose of frivolity here doesn’t mean that these talented vocalists approach their task lightly; they masterfully navigate complex tempo changes and weave together close harmonies in a style rarely heard nowadays. Each member of Duchess—Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner and Melissa Stylianou—has built an acclaimed solo career in New York City. Uniting their powers as Duchess, they become a vocal dynamo. The group’s effervescent style nods to the work of the Boswell Sisters, who added intricate, unexpected turns to their close-harmony singing in the 1930s. Duchess salutes the Boswell Sisters by using their original chart for a rendition of the humorous “Heebie Jeebies” (sung by the three Boswell siblings in the 1932 movie The Big Broadcast). Throughout the program onDuchess, the singers’ expert accompaniment is provided by pianist Michael Cabe, bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Matt Wilson. Contributing on select tracks are saxophonist Jeff Lederer and guitarist Jesse Lewis. Although a retro vibe permeates the proceedings, the musicians perform mostly new arrangements written by their producer, Oded Lev-Ari. The addition of new lyrics to the Peggy Lee composition “Love Being Here With You” highlights the vocalists’ intention to put their own spin on these tunes: “Melissa’s sweet, and Amy’s wise/ And Hilary digs all the guys/ Matt Wilson swings a great reprise/ And we love being here with you.” In a more serious vein, Duchess’ rendition of “I’ll Be Seeing You” packs an emotional punch so strong it could make an Army sergeant weep.