If you have been reading this, I think you probably know when I discover people from around the world are singing songs from the Great American Songbook. I recently discovered the singer Dian Pratiwi, who has released an album titled ‘My Funny Valentine.’ She lives in Bali, Indonesia, and was born in Jakarta. Her album is a mixture of classic songs and newish soul standards.
Upon listening, though, she has more a soul-funk sound than a jazz one. Her singing is very robust and strong, and her improvisations lean more soul. It’s not bad, just not what I was expecting. The album is culled from live performances, and they show her strength – I bet she is a pistol when she is performing. Her ‘Route 66’ rocks, and there’s a whoel lot of herself in ‘What’s Going On.’
I love me a good soprano so I was excited to discover Marie Oppert, a young French singer based in Paris. I had never heard of her, but saw that her new album, ‘Enchantée,’ has a fantastic repertoire of French and American standards. One note of the album and you will be filled with joy.
She never sounds like she is ‘slumming’ when she sings these songs, as you see her relaxed and comfortable singing them – no arched shoulders for sure.
She takes on Broadway classics like ‘I Got Rhythm,’ and ‘Over The Rainbow’ and sings them not just competently but with firm understanding of the songs’ meaning. She includes more recent choices like ‘The Light in the Piazza,’ and ‘Electricity,’ from Billy Elliot. And when she sings in her native French, you can see she is in her element: her ‘I Will Wait For You’ is pure magic. Marvel in her great voice.
I blinked and Seth McFarlane has a new vocal album, ‘Great Songs From Stage and Screen.’ I feel like he has just released hsi last one, but it could have been a while back. They all blend into one thing for me. I yawned at the album’s concept – songs from movies, expecting the same old familiar tunes.
To my surprise, the song selection is sublime, with the initial track ‘Let’s Not Be Sensible’ a now almost-rare track from the Bing Crosby road movie ‘The Road To Hong Kong.’ Peppered her are some cool gems like ‘Once Upon A Dream’ from Sleeping Beauty, which he does her with rat pack braggadoccio, and ‘Ten Minutes Ago’ from ‘Cinderella’ getting the same treatment.
The problem with the album, in my opinion, is that it is too clean and straight. There’s nothing wrong with McFarlane’s vocals, and the arrangements are impeccable, backed by a stellar orchestra. There’s no oomph or sexiness (or danger) to the songs. As I. listen to it, I keep on thinking how Michael Bublé could do so much more with the same exact material.
Covid 19 has instilled some artistic inspiration from some artists, and I understand why – the whole pandemic instills emotion, and I imagine that could be a powerful way to express artistry. Melissa Errico has released a two song EP, titled ‘Two Spring Songs For Summer,’ and she picks two songs that give some meaning to the times we live in. First she sings Alec Wilder’s ‘Blackberry Winter’ and it speaks to how the pandemic has surpised us, halting our lives. On the second song, ‘You Must Believe In Spring,’ the Bergmans add additional lyrics to update for our times now, but the message of hope is still there, conveyed, that if we just believe, everything will be alright. Errico sings with tenderness and hope in both, and it soothes.
If you are a Michael Bublé fan, then you probably have heard of Jumaane Smith. Smith has been playing trumpet for the crooner and his band for the past fifteen years, and the singer is very generous in giving him a spot to ‘introduce’ him to his audience. You can tell that from the live track that closes his new album, ‘When You’re Smiling.’ In it, he plays ‘You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You’ from a concert in Ireland and you can feel the thrill of the audience as he plays his trumpet and sings on the track.
You will feel that enthusiasm as you listen to this album, where he sings and plays piano. You can hear his influence – Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima – but he gives the songs a modern touch, and the sound feels instantly intimate. I love the lushness of ‘I’ll Never Smile Again.’ it’s make out music at its finest. And you know he can swing like a mf, like in ‘Is You is or Is You Ain’t My Baby.’ I think this will be one of those albums that I will love more as I listen more to it.
When pop singers get to a certain age, they inevitable do an album of standards. For me, they are either successful or not, musically speaking. A lot of them go the ‘traditional’ route, singing them to ‘classic arrangements.’ (think Rod Stewart’s standards albums) Some of them cater the songs to their particular style, and that’s when I think they are successful. These songs are a malleable bunch, and can and will work in different settings. When you think of James Taylor, you think of a certain. style – guitar, folksy, a little bit country, very personal sounding. He sings these songs just exactly how you think he would sing them, and it’s glorious. I feel as if I am listening to these songs for the first time. His easy breezy style suits most of them to a T. And it never sounds like he pigeonholed them to fit him. Listen, for example, to ‘Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat,’ and you can hear the intimate joy. And when he croons ‘My Heart Stood Still,’ his honesty is up front and center. Some of the arrangements may sound a bit too similar if you listen to this straight through, but taken as tracks, they are minor masterpieces. Standards – you’ve got a friend in James Taylor
I was sucked into a Hairspray Original Vast YouTube hole over the weekend for some reason, and funny how things change as time passes. I remember not loving the show when it first came out, though I certainly liked the cast, and thought Matthew Morrison was cute and adorable. Watching him sing ‘Without You’ now and I think he does one of the great versions of that song – so many people have done it now and his rendition is still strong in comparison. I always thought Morrison had a handsome voice, and for some reason like it a lot more over the ‘pretty boy’ voices out there. I have enjoyed his solo albums over the years, and I very much enjoyed his new one, ‘Disney Dreamin’ with Matthew Morrison.’
It’s very joyous album. Morrison just recently became a father and this inspired him to do an album of Disney. You can tell he is in ‘happy’ place, and it is infectious. He does very different arrangements of these songs and for the most part, they work. I like his takes on ‘You’ve Got A Friend In Me,’ ‘You’ll Be In My Heart,’ and I love his mash up of ‘Zip A Dee Doo Da/Bare Necessities.’ I like the more ‘character driven songs; and I thought ‘Friend In Me’ was frenetically fun. One misstep, though: his duet with Shoshana Bean doing ‘A Whole New World.’ In theory, the idea of it sounds divine, but the arrangement was off, and I felt a disconnect between them. I felt the same way about Idina Mendel and Ben Platt recently doing the same song – I think its purity is its strongest point – you touch the song too much and it falls apart.
But all in all, this album makes me smile, and nowadays anything that can do that is tops ion my book.
I am an absolute sucker for voice and guitar albums that I cannot help but love Gloria Reuben’s album ‘For All We Know,’ with guitarist Marty Ashby. I know and remember her from television series E.R. even though I never really watched that show, I knew that she sang jazz so I was looking forward to hearing this album, which was released Valentine’s Day (that seems like so long ago)
There is a good set of songs here, and Reuben’s breathy vocals match them well. Ashby’s guitar is exquisite, and I find myself listening to him on some tracks. The album is very introspective, and in these times is a welcome treat. It’s a bit of a ‘late night’ feel, though, and did not really match by morning walk to work.
Janet Dacal was playing Dina in the touring company of ‘The Band’s Visit’ when Covid 19 hit. Around the same time, she released her solo album ‘My Standards,’ from Ghostlight Records. The album is a collection of her favorite standards, done ‘her way,’ which marries a lot of her Cuban roots into the songs. What better day than Cinco de Mayo, especially now that we can only virtually party, to play this record. There used to be a time, in the mid century, when singers like Doris Day and Julie London would record Latin-themed albums. Dacal tries to bring that back here, and she is successful at it. I have heard some of these songs millions of times by now so any fresh take on it would be very welcome. Take ‘I Got rhythm’ for example – she does an explosive salsa version of this, and it works fantastically – this will get people to run quickly to the dance floor. Her improvisations are as great a match to the song as any jazz riff to it. She sings ‘Sabor A Mi’ both in English and Spanish and though I appreciate it more in its original form, I like the breathy arrangement of the English version (‘Be True To Me’) Songs like ‘Orange Coloured Sky’ and ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing’ sound more alive than ever. So grab your home version of a Margarita and luxuriate in the Latin rhythms of this album today. i bet your hips will start swaying.,
I’ve been listening to Ann Hampton Callaway for a good part of my life now that whenever I see her show, I kind of know what to expect. But I find that she can still surprise me in the best way. 54 Below At Home recently streamed her show ‘The Linda Ronstadt Songbook’ which was filmed from September 2018 and I was very glad they did because I have not seen this particular show of hers. I have always loved her and her singing standards (and her brilliant compositions) but in this show, she sings a lot of pop, even rock and roll , songs and she is just as effective, There’s a lot to mine in Rionstadt’s repertoire, ands she extracted some of the best songs. I loved her vibrant and rocking ‘You’re No Good,’ and she pairs this with the story that Linda used to sing this show live before putting it in one of her albums, and when it became a hit, started a trend of ‘reviving’ old rock and roll songs sung Linda’s way. You appreciate it more as she segues into singing ‘Blue Bayou,’ which of course Linda covers from an old Roy Orbison hit. And some of the best spots on the show is her duet with her friend Billy Stritch (who does great piano duty here) singing Linda’s two famous duets, ‘Don’t Know Much,’ and ‘Somewhere Out There.’ By the time she wrapped the show singing ‘Desperado,’ you realize how great she is honoring the music, and me wanting to listen to Linda’s originals. (It made want to add Linda’s Greatest Hits to my Spotify playlists!)