The first thing that got my attention when I started listening to Jen Fellman’s album ‘Forbidden Drive’ was her version of ‘Happiness,’ from Stephen Sondheim’s Passion. She does this duet with another woman. I always thought of this song as such a representation of queer love, and thought Fellman was most insightful interpreting a such. I was mesmerized by her version and started playing the track over and over.
The rest of the album is just as good. She has very thoughtful arrangements of a great collection of songs. There is a very contemplative ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well,’ which is underscored by ‘It Might As Well Be Spring.’ I also like she does lesser-heard songs like Jerry Herman’s ‘Wherever He Ain’t’ and ‘I Win’t Send Roses,’ and these are my two favorite Herman songs. I like her mostly unsentimental version of the latter, with a more urgent tempo. Fellman lived in Paris and I appreciated her French chansons, and I know she gives good character because she knows how to sing Peggy Lee’s ‘Golden Earrings..’ All I know is that I keep on discovering new layers whenever I hear songs from this album, so I will keep on listening.
Kevin 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 .
If you were to look at the cover album of Natalie Douglas’ ‘Human Heart,’ you could probably conclude that Douglas was one of those singers with a scream-y shout-y black woman sassy voice. And while she seems to be a woman and sassy, the other parts of that statements do not apply to her. Douglas has one of those tender voices that caress songs, and in her album ‘Human Heart’ that tenderness is in full bloom.
I actually discovered Douglas a long time ago. I was at Footlight Records store (remember record stores?) and they were playing her and it was one of those “who is that singing” moments, and I remember buying her disc immediately. Here we are now, more than a decade and a half later, and her record is again amazing me.
She has the most eclectic taste in her selection, with everything from Nina Simone to Abbey Lincoln to show tunes. The title track, ‘Human Heart’ is one of my favorite songs from the musical ‘Once On This Island’ and her interpretation brings out the message of the lyrics forcefully – it’s feel-better anthem in full display. Douglas is big on messages, even if it’s the relentless optimism of ‘The Best Is Yet To Come,’ or the brittle strength of ‘I Hold No grudge.’ This is one of those albums that is multi-layered. You think you have heard it all but then a song comes up, like Kurt Weill’s ‘It Never Was You,’ and you are suddenly entranced again. Let’s give this a million stars.
Some people say there’s such a thing as cabaret singing – it’s a little more dramatic, a lot more intimate than jazz singing, which at times could be more technical. Karen Mason would be the best example of cabaret singing – her voice is very theatrical, each number of hers a scene, everything becomes an aria. And her new album ‘It’s About Time’ is a cabaret album, no doubt. You can almost envision the album’s corresponding show in your head as you listen to it. Mason’s style isn’t subtlety – she give her all in each song here, and I would imagine that repeated listenings to this could become tiresome, but taken one by one, you can truly appreciate what she puts into a song, which is a lot. Her ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’ is as big as in any Gypsy production, and she documents that here. She is starring in a pre-Broadway show called ‘Chasing Rainbows’ so she includes a couple of Judy Garland numbers like ‘Over The Rainbow,’ and ‘Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart’ and she sings them well enough that it honors Garland. And I liked ‘Finding Wonderland,’ one of her shows from Frank Wildhorn’s ‘Wonderland,’ a show she starred on Broadway. The title of the album refers to the nine years since she released her last album. It also references the song her husband, Paul Rosnick, wrote for friends of hers after Marriage Equality became a la – it’s actually a good song. There are a lot of things going on here, but once sorted out,could give pleasure.