By Milo Miles
Leyla McCalla delivers a captivating mix of bold concepts and calm execution. This was evident on her 2013 debut album, Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes. Hughes’s work has the lilt and drive of song lyrics, but they are still poems and setting print works to music is often too literary by half. McCalla found a way to put her own distinctively musical voice into every track while underscoring the poet’s intelligence and piercing insights into love, race, and society. Vari-Colored Songs was the sweetest boost anyone has given Langston Hughes in decades.
Keeping the bold going on her new A Day for the Hunter, a Day for the Prey (Jazz Village – to be released May 27), McCalla continues to play cello, tenor banjo, and guitar in addition to her toast-warm vocals, and this time offers originals as well as covers of songs in French and Haitian creole. The sensuous smarts and variety of the new tracks confirms that McCalla’s selection of Hughes was no fortunate accident – they are kindred souls. She will be performing at Atwood’s Tavern on April 14.