There She Is (Movie Thoughts: Miss Americana)

05yud4gp81b41I was never a huge fan of Taylor Swift, though, of course, she has been in my peripheral. I had her records of course (back when I used to collect them as physical pieces) and her songs are on my playlists, but I never stop and truly listen. But after watching ‘Miss Americana,’ I have a new found respect for her. I admit I am guilty of sometimes dismissing her, and I often cite the alleged Quincy Jones quote that he told her ‘a hook doesn’t make a song’ (I don’t know if that is an authetic quote, to be honest) But we see a glimpse of Swift in this documentary that is of a woman coming into her own, and I admire this woman. I think my doubt of her stems that she is from country music, and a lot of those folks seem to be conservative and anti-gay but here she shows herself to be not just a champion of equal right, but a fierce and loyal one. (“How can I go on stage and shout ‘Happy Pride Month’if I don’t take a stand) And when she sees the how horrible Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn is in her home state of Tennessee, she is implored to take a stand on her Instagram addressing her twelve million followers – against her management team, who tells her to not do it. You gotta give her props for that.

Still, you can tell she decides what she wants to share. Where is this ‘squad’ of friends that she reportedly has? And we really do not see this young man who she is supposedly in love with. To me, I am not heartbroken about not seeing those things but I bet her loyal fans are. But no mistake, this was an engrossing documentary that gave me a glimpse of a woman I can support, and you know what? It made me play and appreciate her new album, ‘Lover.’

Harry’s Styles (Music Thoughts: True Love: A Celebration Of Cole Porter, Harry Connick Jr.)

1HCJ_TrueLoveI will stand here and say I knew about Harry Connick Jr before everyone else id. I remember browsing through Tower Records and discovering his CD. yes, this is before  he got mainstream attention via the soundtrack of ‘When harry met Sally.’ I was a michael Feinstein fan then, and remember thinking, based on Connick’s album cover, that their sound will be similar. But of course, in a way they are polar opposites, and I will not even start a debate on cabaret vs. jazz.  I have been following him all these year, and have all his recordings. Of course, dozens of records later, Connick has come out with a Songbook album, this one exploring the work of Cole Porter.

I can’t think of a better pairing. I remember seeing Connick as a judge on American Idol on ‘Standards Week’ and watching him coach the young aspirants on how to sing songs from the Great American Songbook. ‘You have to feel the lyrics,’ he tries to explain to them over and over. Harry, just let them listen to this album, and I bet they will instantly understood how these songs are sung. This is a singer who means every lyric, every pause, and every nuance. Porter’s songs are the hardest to interpret – the lyrics are so witty, and you have to get and interpret every thought, every rhyme external and internal. It opens with ‘Anything Goes,’ and Connick interprets all the knows and winks in the lyrics – and some of the lesser heard verses of the song as well. And Connick’s arrangements are all stellar. Backed by a big band (and at times a full orchestra) these songs have never sounded more alive. Connick the arranger knows how to make these songs sound fresh. Talk about Harry styles.

If I have one complaint, it’s that he has chosen some of the most familiar songs in the Porter canon. But he included two rare ones, ‘Mind If I Make Love To You,’ and ‘You’re Sensational.’  I am just hoping those will be mined in Volume 2, which I am already asking for right now.

At the Corner of Theater & Jazz (Music Thoughts: Something’s Coming, Katie Birtill)

Katie-BirtillJazz singing and theater vocals can sometimes be on opposite sides of the spectrum. But sometimes, they do merge together. Katie Britill can seemingly do both, and very well. She has a version of ‘Baby Dream Yuor Dream’ from Sweet Charity that made it to my “Ultimate Favorites” playlist and it was nice to see her release a new EP for the New Year. This new release is titled ‘Something’s Coming,’ and I am glad it has come. The one thing that first attracted me to the recording is the song selection – it’s very theater-centric! It starts with the title tune, and it has ‘I’ve Got The Sun In The Morning’ from Annie Get Your Gun. She does slightly swinging versions of both – you can sense her grasp of good rhythm. But, you can also tell that she has great flair for interpreting the lyrics. She brings her stage roots here, and you can tell she totally understands what she is singing about from a character’s point of view. I think this recording is so worth it even for just one track: her version of ‘No One is Alone’ from Into The Woods. I always pay attention when someone is singing Sondheim because they either give it justice or fudge it. She nails this song, essaying its meaning without diluting it. She would be a great Baker’ Wife. I think this particular track will be going on my Ultimate Favorite playlist. I read in her website that she performs in London – maybe one of these days I am able to see her live.

Ukulele And Waves (Music Thoughts: Bagatelles, Nellie McKay)

813BH3uavhL._SX466_I have been championing Nellie McKay from the very beginning. She is one of the few modern singers who sings songs from the Great American Songbook with a style that’s original. You know she has great love for these songs but she always takes a different route with how she interprets them. There are times when I disagree with how she sings them, but they are always interesting. In her new EP ‘Bagatelles,’ she takes her spare approach to songs even sparer. The best way I could describe this recording is that you feel like you were in an elementary music room with McKay, and somehow it works. You may not think initially they do, but then you realize the brilliance right after. Take for example, her take here of Cole Porter’s ‘I Concentrate On You.’ She sings it acapella, and what does she have in the background? the sound of waves and seagulls. Weird, but as you listen to it more, you get what she is going for – you get the urgency of how one feels when one is deeply in love with another person, and the tune becomes a whisper, as she confesses to you her precious love. I am obsessed with it. I personally also like the tracks where she just accompanies herself with a ukulele – they feel personal, and you cannot help but pay attention to the lyrics and phrasing. When McKay first started, people compared her voice to Blossom Dearie, but I don’t think that’s accurate anymore – it;s deepened and sounds much richer, as her accompaniments become more spare. She and this album is a total delight.

As Snow Falls (Music Thoughts: Christmas Secrets, Enya)

190295307820When I saw this Christmas release from Enya, I thought, well, finally, if there was an artists whose voice lends to Holiday music, it would be hers.  Well, this compilation, titled ‘Christmas Secrets’ is a collection of previously-released tracks from previous albums. While I really frown on compilations, this one serves a good purpose, and is a good substitute in lieu of a new album. And this is one of those albums wherein you know exactly how it will sound. Someone described this as a great aural companion to if you were stuck somewhere while it is snowing outside. Imagine looking at the window, as snow gracefully falls, as you listen to her calm versions of ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel,’ or ‘Adeste Fideles,’ and well, you get the picture. In Southern California where I am, there isn’t quite snow, but while listening to this, for a brief second, it felt it.

New York Christmas Mood (Music Thoughts: Christmas Eve, Kevin Dozier)

HolidayCover-e1575127592709Kevin Dozier is very active in the cabaret community in New York City and I knew when I saw that his Holiday album, ‘Christmas Eve;’ will be thoughtfully sung. Coupled with Alex Rybeck’s arrangements, Dozier’s vocals soar without making the songs sound overdone, and he gives them just the right amount of warmth and theatricality. I always say that ‘O Holy Night’ is always a good barometer of what kind of singer one is when they sing it. In here, he is able to put the songs cross without histrionics – there’s no hard sell her,  just honesty. And My favorite track is a medlette of ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ with Sondheim’s ‘Goodbye For Now’ (from Rags) The counterpoint is fitting, and touching, and makes the former sound like a brand new song. Rybeck himself composed the title track and it’s a nice sweet ballad from a child’s point of view. The rest of the album is good, but those three tracks stood out best for me. If you want an album that has a Manhattan Cabaret sound, then this one’s for you .

The Homophobe’s Holiday (Music Thoughts: Rejoice!, Calee Reed)

81jv5ybkx6L._SS500_Yo, I got duped. One look at the album cover of Calee Reed’s ‘Rejoice!’ album and I thought it was one of those fun frothy Christmas albums. But I find out she is one of those Christian Contemporary artists who for sure is homophobic and regularly eats at Chick Fil A because of the company’s values. Yikes. In all fairness, I listened to all the songs and now I need to take a shower to take the grime off me.