From the moment you hear Annie Sellick sing the opening lines, "The way I see it, you just can’t win it" from Joni Mitchell’s song "Free Man In Paris," you feel like she is speaking directly to you. As the song progresses, it becomes impossible to escape Sellick’s powers of seduction, and the music of vibraphonist Steve Shapiro and guitarist/harmonica player Pat Bergeson are perfect accomplices during the takeover. Their blend of smooth jazz, country-folk, and a wee bit of swing makes their latest release Backward Compatible an album that you will want to pass onto your children. The tell-tale signs of jazz in their songs pay homage to the classic era of the ’40s and ’50s, and their inflections of modern adult contemporary induce their songs with ringlets of peaceful-binding vapors. The album has a gentle persuasion as it subliminally reels you in and slowly penetrates your senses. It is one of the sweetest coup d-etats you may ever encounter.
Produced by Shapiro and Bergeson, Backward Compatible contains a selection of standards like Cole Porter’s "My Heart Belongs To Daddy" which has relaxing curls of calypso-tinged aigrettes, and a few tracks that are original tunes like the sea breezy coasting of "Early" penned by Pat Bergeson and Annie Sellick with sprigs of soaring saxophone improvisations by Scott Kreitzer and plush comping from the rhythm section as glistening shards rain down from the synth effects. It’s a song made for the Lover’s Lounge hour on the radio, while the upbeat tempo of Shapiro’s tune "Life Could Be Wonderful" has a bouncy swing jazz vibe with ornamental saxophone rings and hopping bass pizzicatos performed by Doug Weiss followed by a jaunty vibraphone improv from Shapiro.
Sellick’s rendition of Neil Young’s tune "Heart Of Gold" replenishes its roots rock branches and gives it a modern finish. The slinky accordion phrases played by Will Barrow on "Swingleberry" are nicely pronounced, and the moonlight flickers of "It Could Happen To You" bring out the lover’s glow in Sellick’s vocals especially when she sings the main line "it could happen to you" with such persuasion. The spiky guitar arcs in "Scary Americans" enhance the intensity and drama of the tune, but then cools down to a laid back pace in "Hushabye Mountain," a charming number written by Robert and Richard Sherman. Sellick’s whispery ministrations in the verses make the fantasy atmospherics seem real, "It isn’t far to Hushabye Mountain / And your boat waits down by the key / The winds of night so softly are sighing / Soon they will fly your troubles to sea / So close your eyes on Hushabye Mountain / Wave good-bye to cares of the day / And watch your boat from Hushabye Mountain / Sail far away from lullaby bay."
Closing the album with the secretive shades and shivering medley of instruments in "Dangerous Toys," Shapiro and Bergeson display their kinetic approach to forming music and their keen sense of harmonic lines. Backward Compatible follows the duo’s previous record Low Standards, which also features Annie Sellick on vocals. This is the third album that Shapiro and Bergeson have made together, and it most definitely should not be their last.