Jane at Twenty (Music Thoughts: Come What May, Jane Monheit)

Jane Monheit’s newest album, ‘Come What May’ is a celebration of her two decades since her breakthrough debut album. And it’s a perfect way to celebrate what she is about. Monehit has always straddled the line between jazz and cabaret singing – she has the instrumental jazz ear combined with a sensitivity to great lyric interpretation. And her full supple voice is full of richness that can sometimes be too intoxicating. But, she is never ever boring. Take, for example, her version here of ‘My Funny Valentine.’ This is a song that has bene sung by every winger in the world, and to be frank, very few people get it right. Monheit nails all the emotions here – you hear every wonderful Larry Hart lyric and the story she tells is as heartbreaking as the song was meant to convey. I found myself hanging on and listening to every word of the song – and trust me when I say that I have heard this tune hundreds of millions of times by now. And I can’t remember the last time I paid attention to anyone else singing ‘The Man Who Got Away’ by a singer whose name was not Judy Garland. Monheit’s version gives an almost opposite energy to the original – it’s cool laid back but you still feel the love of something and someone going awry, and it’s just as unforgettable. Some would argue that Monheit’s jazz licks are much too planned and rehearsed to be ‘authentic’ but who cares? There is enough honesty in her interpretation to always win me over.

His Characters (Music Thoughts: Plays With Music, Brian Stokes Mitchell)

There’s no question that Brian Stokes Mitchell is one of Broadway’s modern leading men, so an album of theater songs would always be welcome from him. His 2019 album, ‘Plays with Music’ is even more welcome than usual because in this collection, he envisions each song as plays in themselves, making each song character pieces with story arcs. And this is a great collection of great theater songs like ‘I Won’t Send Roses,’ from ‘Mack and Mabel,’ and ‘If Ever I Would Leave You,’ from Camelot. He does great justice to these songs, and even throws in an obscure piece or two, like ‘Gesticulate’ from ‘Kismet. ‘ As characters, you really have to let your imaginations wander, as the arrangements are on the generic side (though they are well done)

Ordinary Indeed (Music Thoughts: No Ordinary Love: The Music of Sade, Bill Kwan)

Bill Kwan is a doctor by trade and discovered his love of music and decided to pursue a career in singing, recording his own versions of pop songs and jazzifying them. His latest target is the music of Sade (the singer and band) and the result is ‘No Ordinary Love.’

Look. I really tried to like this. Sade’s music is so specific in production, arrangement. Her phrasing is so distinctly hers, and creates such a mood that only she can do. I did not hear anything original in kwan’s album, which to my ears is an inferior retread of everything Sade. Why bother? If it was successful in anything, it would be to further highlight Sade’s excellence. I wanted to (and did) listen to the original versions… and everything felt better.

Go back to saving lives, Bill.

Stritch Late At Night (Music Thoughts: Billy’s Place, Billy Stritch)

‘Billy’s Place’ is the title of Billy Stritch’s weekly online show and I have watched a lot of it on Facebook. When the lockdown started, it was a great way to stream live music and brought me a lot of joy. ‘Billy’s Place’ is also the title of Stritch’s new album, and is culled from songs he sung from those shows. It is a wonderful, intimate recording, perfect for late night.

Accompanying himself on piano, Stritch sets. mood right away and doesn’t let go. I love his take on standards, like ‘Skylark,’ and ‘That Old Feeling/I Thought About You.’ But I like the songs that are newer to my ear: Peter Allen’s ‘Planes’ gives a melancholy feel to flying, ‘My Love Went to London’ puts a romantic spin to my favorite city. I think my most favorite is ‘Since You Left New York,; a Stritch original that makes me miss my beloved city.

And Her Trombone (Music Thoughts: Standard, Aubrey Logan)

Aubrey Logan’s new album ‘Standard’ is unique in a lot of senses. First fo all, she is a jazz singer who also plays the trombone so a good number of the tracks re instrumental. But she also sings, and she has a very raw technique. It can get loud and screechy, but not in an unpleasant manner. I like it that she goes ‘there.’ It’s refreshing and can sometimes be abrasive, but in my opinion it’s interesting. She has a great repertoire, from standards (‘Here’s that Rainy Day’) to R & B (‘Save Your Love For Me’) to disco (‘MacArthur Park’) to opera (‘Largo at Factotum’) And you know what? It’s all good.

Song and War (Music Thoughts: As Time Goes By, Sarah Spiegel)

I love the concept of ‘As Time Goes By,’ a na album of standards by Sarah Spiegel. I know nothing of MS. Spiegel, and looking at her resume on her website, it seems that she has done a lot of acting work. This album is a collection of songs from World War II, and she has a nice clear voice that gives great impression of longing and hope. (Apparently she does a one woman show with the same theme, titled ‘Through The Perilous Fight’) The songs have mostly big-band arrangements, and authentically recreates the sound of the time. It’s a great listen.

In Swedish Harmony (Music Thoughts: Jazz It Up and Move, The Hebbe Sisters)

The Hebbe Sisters is a swedish musical group consisting of real sisters: Emelie, Josefine and Maria, all from the town of Varmland. ‘Jazz it Up and Move’ is their third album, a tribute to big band songs of the 40s and 50s. I’ve never heard of them before, and they are a fine musical group, reminiscent of other sister groups, The Andrews and The Boswells. The record is nice enough, with authentic-sounding arrangements, and their harmonies are pretty tight. But to be honest, I have heard all of this before, and even though the aren’t out to reinvent the wheel, this particular wheel is well worn and have been in use for a while now. I found my mind wandering after a while and losing interest. And can there be a market for this now? These records have already been recorded, and I don’t know why it still needs to be redone exactly the same way.

Zoe Bossa (Music Thoughts: Shades of Love, Zoe Scott)

It’s 420, so let’s chill, and maybe listen to… bossa nova music? Sure, why not mon. Right now I am spinning Zoe Scott’s ‘Shades of Love’ and is fits the bill just right. Scott is apparently a rock artist who shifted gears and recorded an album of bossa nova music. She employs just the right light touch in here, with her versions of ‘Quiet Nights,’ ‘Wave,’ and ‘Once I Loved’ among others. She sets some pop songs in the same setting, like My Cherie Amour,’ and ‘Baby It’s You.’

She doesn’t do anything ground breaking but these tracks mostly work. Her versions of Amy Winehouse’s ‘You Know I’m No Good’ feels kind of gimmicky, and her “Triste’ lacks melancholy but for the most part these are nice pleasant versions of these songs,

What He Knows From Heart (I Know More Now, Brian de Lorenzo)

I had a realization while I was listening to ‘I Know More Now,’ Brian de Lorenzo’s new album (his new one after decades) because when i first listened to the album, i wasn’t too fond of it It felt a little too ‘cabaret,’ and I bit self-indulgent. But I listened to it more, and I found a lot more to like about it. The song selection is definitely odd – a mixture of lesser known songs and ones that are (to me) iconic pieces for other people, De Lorenzo has a nice sweet voice, but it could be a bit colorless, and teh piano arrangements at times verged on recital-like. But I think, all in all, it’s an album that will catch you by pleasant surprise.

First, the good. The album title is derived from one of my favorite songs ‘No More,’ from Marvin Hamlisch and his ‘The Goodbye Girl’ musical. I consider this song a secret – nto many peopel have done it, and it was nice to see De Lorenzo give it a gay ‘twist.’ And I have heard numerous versions of ‘When October Goes’ that I was elated to find his version tenderly appealing. And the funny ‘Entering Marion’ with all its double entendres made me chuckle. But he didn’t add anything to ‘Second Hand Baby grand’ from Smash to distinguish his version from others and can we get a moratorium on ‘Waving Through A Window’ because it’s just so icky.

So, a little bit o fa mixed bag here. But I think some of these songs will end up on my daily playlist, so the good outweighs the bad.

Lucie Belts (Live At The Adelphi, Lucie Jones)

Lucie Jones had been playing ‘Waitress’ on the West End when she took a small break when Sara Bareilles took over the role temporarily. But if course, the pandemic happened, and now we don’t know if Jones will get back to her role. During that time, Jones staged a concert at The Adelphi (where ‘Waitress’ was) and this disc is a remembrance of that night.

Jones is a belter, so you can just imagine what that concert must feel. The recording captures her stunning voice, and the wonderful energy of her audience. There is no shortness in belter character songs: ‘Don’t Rain. On My Parade,’ ‘Into The Unknown,’ you know the type. She sings these effortlessly, reaching for the highest notes much to the delight of the crowd. I was listening to it on my morning walk and it’s certainly an exhilarating listen.

But I wish there was more meat. We have heard all these songs before, sung this way before. Even the ‘unconventional’ picks are not original. Her ‘Bring Him Home’ has been done better by Kris Chenoweth and ‘A Piece Of Sky’ was predictable, And even when has to be ‘quiet,’ like in ‘Moon Rover,’ it just doesn’t work. But she can definitely sing, so I hope it becomes a vessel for something more original soon.