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October 10, 2013

Marshall native brings sounds of Tahiti album, diverse career back home

It’s no wonder Chris Bennett’s voice sounds as soothing as ocean waves hitting the beach at low tide on her latest album, “Sail Away.”

She recorded the compilation in Tahiti.

That collection of gentle jazz numbers from 2010 carries Bennett into tonight’s concert in her Illinois hometown. The show at historic Harlan Hall begins at 7 p.m. CDT, with doors opening at 6.

The “Sail Away” album finds the singer-songwriter-pianist with a confident mastery of her music on an astoundingly diverse path, stretching back to the 1970s. Moving from the University of Illinois to grad school at UCLA, she found a spot singing backup to Jim Nabors on international tours and in Las Vegas. Bennett soon became lead vocalist, and a stunning album-cover model, for the popular German disco band, Munich Machine, and eventually co-wrote the Grammy nominated title track to the “Midnight Express” soundtrack. In studio work, she sang behind Donna Summer (on “MacArthur Park”), Johnny Mathis and Rita Coolidge. Tina Turner and The Manhattan Transfer recorded Bennett’s originals.

Her career turned toward jazz in 1993, leading to a string of 12 solo albums. “Sail Away” delivers evocative lyrics with strength, yet vulnerability. Her voice, soft and smoky, easily roams the melodies. The album presents Bennett, now 65, in a reflective place, well represented by the cover photo, showing her wrapped in tropical colors, soaking in the sunlit island waters.

The 10-song disc’s final track, “All For Naught,” features Bennett looking ahead, with experience and some dreams realized and some not. “When I think it’s all for naught, I will look at all I’ve got,” she sings,” concluding that, “Yes, I will survive, it seems.”

“All For Naught” marks one of four Bennett-written songs on the album. That list includes the title track, a heartfelt goodbye wave to a relationship, cast with the exotic touch of a wooden flute accompaniment. Two others, “Won’t Let Me Go” and “I Can’t Think About It” deal with the aftermath of similar loss. The denial of such pains emerge on Bennett’s rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s “I Get Along Without You Very Well.” Likewise, Bennett covers “Besame Mucho,” flawlessly crooning its dramatic, Spanish lyrics, which translated, beg, “kiss me a lot, for I’m scared to lose you.”

Bennett’s music, touring and recording choices reflect her international flair. Two months after tonight’s show in Marshall, she’ll perform in Zagreb, Croatia, in a concert broadcast Dec. 18 on national television in that European country. In July, she did shows in Tahiti. In August, she played three nights at the A-Trane Jazz Club in Berlin, Germany.

For tonight, the 1966 Marshall High School graduate who ran her own dance studio in the small town at age 14, shares the sounds of “Sail Away” and her four-decade musical journey in the community where she grew up.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

Hometown return

• Marshall native and jazz singer-pianist Chris Bennett performs at 7 (CDT) tonight in Harlan Hall in downtown Marshall. Doors open at 6.

• The tickets are $10 in advance at Harlan Hall and $12 at the door. The price includes her performance and hors d’oeuvres. Wine will be sold by the glass, along with soft drinks, water and a few select beers.

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