Vocalist Barbara Dane to Release "Throw It Away ...," Her First New Recording in 14 Years, On Her Dreadnaught Music Label, August 19

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Barbara Dane's return to recording at age 89 reveals a unique and uncompromising artist whose command of melody and lyrics remains intact, who has never lost her sense of humor, and whose depth of feeling has only ripened more richly over the years. "Throw It Away ...," scheduled for August 19 release and featuring the elegantly swinging pianist Tammy Hall, is Barbara's most eclectic and subtle set of songs to date.

Barbara Dane's new CD, "Throw It Away ..."

Dane's chemistry with the elegantly swinging pianist Tammy Hall has 'given me the freedom to explore new ways of singing.'

Barbara Dane’s extraordinary life has been distinguished by decades’ worth of collaborations with major artists in jazz, blues, folk, and world music as well as by uncompromising public stands for social justice and civil rights. At 89, the indomitable Oakland-based singer is still active, still performing, and, on her new CD "Throw It Away…," in inspired form. The disc, her first new recorded work in 14 years, will be released on August 19 by Dane’s Dreadnaught Music imprint.

Dane points to her chemistry with the elegantly swinging pianist Tammy Hall as having “given me the freedom to explore new ways of singing.” A Dallas native and longtime San Franciscan, Hall is the latest of great piano players to have recorded with Dane, including Earl “Fatha” Hines and Don Ewell. “She pays attention to what the singer is saying, and this is rare,” says Barbara. “Tammy knows how to clarify my meaning through the music, and oh my, does she swing!”

Rounding out the rhythm section are in-demand bassist Ruth Davies, known for her years of work with Elvin Bishop and the late Charles Brown, and the vocalist’s old friend and colleague, Bill Maginnis, on drums. Barbara’s son Pablo Menéndez, leader of the Cuban group Mezcla, produced the date on a visit from his home in Havana. And although his main instrument is guitar, here he blows some terrific blues harp on three tracks. The other special guest on the project is trad jazz veteran Richard Hadlock, who contributes soulful soprano sax on the ballad “All Too Soon.”

This is Barbara’s most eclectic and subtle set of songs to date. Starting out with a juicy Memphis Minnie blues (“I’m Sellin’ My Porkchops”), she explores tunes from the jazz canon by Abbey Lincoln (the title track), Duke Ellington (“All Too Soon”), and Fats Waller (“How Can You Face Me?”); songs by singer-songwriters Paul Simon (“American Tune”), Lennon-McCartney (“In My Life”), and Leonard Cohen (“Slow”—“That’s a woman’s song if I ever heard one”); two original blues and one old folk tune reimagined by Mose Allison with new words by Dane; a hilarious jazz waltz (“The Kugelsburg Bank”); and a country-style topical song by a local postman.

When Barbara burst onto the scene in the late 1950s, Playboy magazine’s jazz critic Leonard Feather called her “Bessie Smith in Stereo” and Time magazine described her voice as “pure, rich . . . rare as a 20 karat diamond.” Nowadays her rich alto tones retain their customary warmth, but instead of shouting the blues, she has found new ways of communicating, using a more relaxed and intimate way of singing.

In the 1950s and ’60s the Detroit-born Barbara Dane performed and recorded with many of the greats of jazz and blues including Jack Teagarden, Benny Carter, Lightnin’ Hopkins, the Chambers Brothers, Memphis Slim, and Willie Dixon. Her first album, "Trouble in Mind," appeared in 1957 on the San Francisco Records label. She recorded "Livin’ with the Blues" for Dot in 1959 with a combo that featured Earl Hines with Shelly Manne, Plas Johnson, and Benny Carter. Dane appeared on national TV’s Timex Jazz Show with Louis Armstrong and was featured on Playboy After Dark, receiving a special award from Hugh Hefner as one of the outstanding jazz artists of the year. She scored a Top 40 hit in 1960 with a single on the Trey label titled “I’m on My Way” that was produced by Lee Hazlewood and Lester Sill and has become a cult classic in recent years on England’s Northern Soul scene. Her album "On My Way" (Capitol Records, 1961) featured a different version of the song, which can be heard throughout the 2010 PBS special Freedom Riders.

Never confining herself to one genre, Dane also performed and recorded folk and world music, taking a cue from early mentor Pete Seeger. Many young singers such as Jackson Browne, Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt, and Ry Cooder were exposed to her music at the Ash Grove in Los Angeles, where Dane was a frequent headliner. In the 1960s and ’70s, she sang at demonstrations in Washington and in small towns all over America, from the Freedom Schools of rural Mississippi to the gates of military bases in Japan and Europe. In l966, Barbara became the first American musician to tour post-revolutionary Cuba.

(Nine of her earlier recordings are available on her web site, http://www.barbaradane.net, and another five of her classic albums can be purchased from Smithsonian Folkways, http://www.folkways.si.edu.)

In the fall of 2017, Barbara’s 90th year will be celebrated with a weekend of events culminating in a concert at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Nina Menéndez, the new CD’s executive producer, is now heading up The Barbara Dane Legacy Project. Among the project’s goals are the placement of her extensive archives; a PBS-style TV special profiling Barbara’s life; and the publication of Dane’s soon-to-be-completed autobiography.

On August 24, Dane returns to Yoshi’s in Oakland for a CD release concert, having performed there for a sell-out crowd in January of this year. "Throw It Away…" reveals a unique and uncompromising artist whose command of melody and lyrics remains intact, who has never lost her sense of humor, and whose depth of feeling has only ripened more richly over the years.

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Terri Hinte