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  • Writer's pictureJAM

Joanna Berkebile: Love Me or Leave Me (2020)

New KC staple Joanna Berkebile's first solo album, Love Me or Leave Me, is a hit. The album is filled with passionate, soulful, clever tunes. In part, as the title implies, it's an album of love tunes, but not tunes all cut of one cloth, but instead revealing the many, patch-work sides of love: new love, tainted love, zany love, bad love. The songs cover it all, the gambit of the different kinds, as well as love's enduring forward (sometimes upward, sometimes downward) progress.

The album is a joy and captures Berkebile's intelligence, cleverness, and heart. Also, it features her range. Originally an opera singer, the album showcases her pipes.

"I used to be an opera a previous iteration of Joanna," Berkebile said.

"I also love singers who don't sound like me at all," she said. "Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Tom Waits, Eartha Kitt...It have a Tom Waits (tune) on my album."

Berkebile spoke about the pandemic and how it is affecting KC jazz musicians in addition to artists of all kinds. She started by speaking about her own in-person socially distanced performances, "When the weather was nicer, we were doing some driveway concerts….Things like live music and theatre, there's no replacement...The people who appreciated it will come back with a vengeance when it's allowed...especially in KC."

"I'm super proud of the CD product (of this album)...our local fans are eating it up."

"Leslie (Maclean) did all of the arranging," Berkebile said. And the album is a true collaboration, showcasing the talents of Jerry Pollock (drums), Leslie Maclean (piano), and Tim Brewer (bass). Berkebile leads, but leads with a light hand on the wheel, allowing the others to play upon their own innate strengths. Berkebile commends the “lack of ego” of her co-conspirators in the recording process; everyone worked as a team to produce the best sound, the best mix. Pollock is articulate and melodic on drums, including some tasty hi-hat comping as understated flourishes. Maclean backs Berkebile’s voice so well it sounds like Berkebile could be on keys. Brewer’s lines are soulful and supportive; the bottom sounds just right.

If you enjoy strong lyrics from the classic American songbook (be it for stage, the club or cabaret, or the radio); appreciate a strong, smart voice; and are looking for something new, this album is for you.

—Kevin Rabas

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