Stacey Snowflake (Music Thoughts: Christmas In the Rockies, Stacey Kent)

I have always loved Stacey Kent. She sounds like a modern jazz singer with old-fashioned sensibilities. I remember when I used to go to London, I would hunt for her discs because (then) they were not available in the States yet. So I was doubly excited to find she recorded Christmas music, an EP called ‘Christmas In the Rockies.’ I mean it’s just four tracks, but they are a fantastic four.

She sings four classics: ‘Sleigh Ride,’ “Christmastime is Here,’ ‘Winter Wonderland,’ and ‘The Christmas Song.’ She doesn’t break the mold on the songs, they have classic arrangements and she sings them well with her sweet and slightly salty voice.

I’ve noticed that there hasn’t been much vocal jazz holiday albums of late, so this is a welcome addition. Stream it before the season ends.

Spring In A Song (Music Thoughts: You Must Believe In Spring, Josie Falbo)

I think there is no song more fitting to sing nowadays than ‘You Must Believe in Spring.’ I mean, this administration, this pandemic – these are dark times and this song is so hopeful. It may be winter now, but you must believe in Spring because it will come. Josie Falbo sings that song in her album (it is also the title of her album) and she sings it masterfully – she captures the despair a lot of us are feeling right now, but her rendition also offers hope. It is a great interpretation of the song.

She sings the rest of the album as wonderfully. Miss Falbo has been singing for thirty five years now (as per her bio) and she definitely knows what she is singing about. She posses the confidence of. woman who has lived these lyrics – and tells a unique story with each of the songs. I liked the way she deconstructs ‘Tis Autumn’ that brings out the meaning of the lyrics, and she swings like mad in ‘Devil May Care.’

Don’t pass by this album, listen to it, and it will be a small light in these times we are living in right now.

Nice and Easy (Music Thoughts: Great Songs from Stage & Screen, Seth McFarlane)

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.

Do You Know Gloria? (Music Thoughts: For All We Know, Gloria Reuben and Marty Ashby)

Gloria-Rueben-Marty-Ashby-For-All-We-Know-432x432I 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.

The She In Our Lives (Music Thoughts: The Women Who Raised Me, Kandace Springs)

KS_TWWRM_cover_re_1024xI have to admit I am new to Kandace Springs, although I shouldn’t have – she exemplifies the kind of singer I listen to and love. And she must be very good, as she is recording for Blue Note Records. She titled her album ‘The Women Who Raised Me,’ and above all, it is a fantastic title as I feel the same way towards the same woman she is referencing. This is obviously a tribute album to some of her favorite female vocalists – from Ella and Nina and Billie to more ‘modern’ singers ones like Sade and Bonnie Raitt.  She has some superstar guests in here, like Christian McBride on bass and David Sanborn on saxophone, so you know she ain’t playing. Springs has a full strong voice but not without some vulnerability, and I can tell she loves these songs, that she has lived through them, and understand the lyrics she is singing. I love her ‘The Nearness of You’ and on my Spotify app they play this with a video of her playing the piano and it enhances the aural experience. And I consider her a kindred spirit by picking to cover  ‘Pearls,’ my favorite Sade song of all time. I was taken by her slow-burn ‘Killing Me Softly’ and I hear she does a great live version of ‘First Time I Ever Saw Your Face’ on her live sets. I think this is one of those albums where I will find layers with each re-listening. I cannot wait for new revelations,

The Sound Of Elegance (Music Thoughts: Seven Elegant Ballads, Hiromi Kanda)

swSometimes all you need is seven songs to make a mark. Hiromi Kanda titled her new album ‘Seven Elegant Ballads,’ and it’s not false advertising. It only takes a second to impress me (or not) and I definitely was enamored by her voice quickly. She sings these seven songs (five standards and two originals) with soulful honesty that you cannot help but be taken by her music right away. Her husband, Yusuke Hoguchi has crafted classic arrangement that showcase these songs and her voice impeccably. And that voice – so fully soulful that you know she knows she feels every lyric of these songs even though (I assume) that English is not her first language. Emotion really is universal, it seems. I like that her ‘Smile’ is not too melancholy – there is an uplifting message in her version. And ‘Moonlight in Vermont’ sounds like a song you hear as you look into a big moon. Surprisingly, I even like the originals – ‘Days of Yesterday’ is a pleasant surprise (I read it was a hit for her years ago)  Don’t sleep on these seven ballads.

You Choose Jazz (Music Thoughts: Why Did I Choose You, Emi Takada)

616UeOnSo2L._SY355_I put Emi Takada’s ‘Why Did I Choose You’  on my Daily playlist a while back, and I have been meaning to write about her for a while now. For some reason, whenever a track from her album comes on, I always sit and pay attention. I like her a lot. She has a very expressive voice and there is such joy in her voice, so much so that even if the mood of what she is singing is melancholy, it never feels like a total downer. Something about that really appeals to me. Takada grew up in Japan but spent time both in Texas and New York. I think she is all Japanese, as far as jazz vocal sensibility. You can tell, just like a lot of Japanese people, how much she loves jazz and at the same time I feel that Asian sentimentality by the way she expresses lyrics in her love songs. You can sense that in the title track, and even in songs that are tangentially about live, like ‘It Might As Well Be Spring.’ And her jazz chops are there in Blue Skies, where duets with Marion Cowings, who taught her jazz.  This album is a joy to listen to, and I don’t think I will be taking it off my playlist.

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.

Sherry Blossom (Music Thoughts: Songs I Love, Gemma Sherry)

22yralb01846288_largeGemma Sheery is originally from Australia and apparently started out singing dance tracks – she has a hit called ‘Work that’  However, I just listened to her new album called ‘Songs I Love,’ which is a collection of standards.  Sherry has a tiny-ish voice, reminiscent of Blossom Dearie. It feels intimate and really pleasant sounding. And she has great taste in music, as this album is a collection of ‘Songs I Love.’  There’s ‘Spring Can Really hang You Up The Most’ to ‘Some Other Time,’ to ‘Lush Life,’ and she does that last track very well. She is backed by just a piano in these tracks, making the album perfect for late night listenings. There are times when she sings ‘under the note’ which make her sound a little bit pitchy – but she isn’t. You can tell the affection she feels for these songs.

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.