While most women write tell-all books about the men they've had and/or known, Sherie Rene Scott has devoted an entire CD to them. Luckily for those men involved, Sherie has limited it to male songwriters whose shows she has been involved in (although her tongue-in-cheek liner notes hysterically imply otherwise). Her album, Men I've Had, features songs by Pete Townsend (whose show, Tommy, provided Sherie with her Broadway debut), Randy Newman (Faust at La Jolla Playhouse), Kander and Ebb (Over and Over at Signature Theater), Elton John (Aida), and Jonathan Larson (Rent).
What is wonderful about the album (aside from Sherie's superb, sensual vocals, which are perfectly complimented by Tim Weil's understated arrangements) is that only one of the songs is from the shows mentioned. Instead, Sherie has wisely chosen songs from the writer's pop catalogues, and performed them in a moderately laid-back manner that sizzles and rocks and the same time.
Highlights include an incredibly sensual "Squeezebox" (Pete Townsend); "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters (Elton John/Taupin), which makes her sound like a cross between Laura Nyro and Carole King; the sultry "This Life" (from Kander and Ebb's Over and Over, but sung by Dorothy Loudon in the show) that shows off her jazz chanteuse chops; a simply divine rendition of "Real Emotional Girl" (Randy Newman) that is stellar in its simplicity; and "Love Heals" (a song Jonathan Larson wrote for a benefit), a slightly R&B-sounding ballad that displays yet again what we lost with Larson's passing (and how Rent was not the nadir of his talents).
Another performer in the pop/rock vein is Tracy Stark, whose CD Canvas of Dreams was released in 2000. Well known as a music director, pianist (whose credits include Triumph of Love on Broadway) and piano bar performer (to catch her in action, visit Judy's Chelsea or Rose's Turn), she is also an accomplished singer/songwriter whose songs resemble the well-crafted pop/rock tunes of Laura Nyro, Carole King, Stevie Wonder and Janis Ian. Her songs feature an upbeat honesty that is as refreshing as it is catchy and a drive that is highly infectious. Performers looking for intelligent songs in the pop/rock vein (as well as those who enjoy a well-written non-Broadway tune) would do well to check out this album, as well as her website: www.tracystark.com.
For a well-written and produced album of a completely different nature, may I suggest Michael Holland's latest album, Darkness Falls, a CD that recalls the well-crafted albums of Queen and Styx while utilizing modern studio techniques and styles. At its heart, the songs display deft songwriting and emotional honesty, usually infused with a conceptual twist. The first number, for instance, "They Used To Call It New Wave," is a nostalgic look at the old New Wave/Punk days, but written in the most lyrical and romantic way possible.
Several of the songs would not be out of place in a dance club, such as "Joey Stephano's Dead" (featuring guest vocalist Musty Chiffon) and the high-energy "All Mine," containing as they do techno beats and instrumentation (and, indeed, Holland was the recipient of the MP3.com Blockbuster Music Award for Best Male Rock Artist). Throughout the album, however, lies the lyrical sensibility that helped win him a MAC Award this year and the album contains an equal number of lower-key ballads, such as "The Haunting And The Need," which recalls George Michaels at his best and the touching "The Mention of You." Also highly entertaining is "Trash," a bluesy number concerning those involved in an over-abundance of one-night stands. Of special interest is a bonus track containing an acoustic version of "Joey Stephano's Dead," which illustrates how elastic his songs are. (Also of note is the use of a blank track to separate the bonus track from the rest of the album; a feature I wish all producers would incorporate into their albums). For more information visit www.michaelholland.com.
Lovers of jazz can't go wrong getting jazz/cabaret great Barbara Carroll's latest CD, One Morning in May. The album, which is largely purely instrumental, is a delightfully laid-back mix of showtunes (the Gershwin's "Nice Work If You Can Get It" and "Isn't It a Pity," Rodgers and Hart's "Can't You Do a Friend a Favor," the latter two containing vocals by Carroll) and jazz standards (Thelonious Monk's "In Walked Bud," Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower is a Lonesome Thing," and Carmichael/Parish's "One Morning in May"). The album also contains some lesser known gems, like Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Zingaro," and two songs by Carroll: "The Far Brook Boys" and "Bemelman's Blues" (a tribute to the Carlyle Hotel bar that was her performing home for 25 years). Of special note is "I'm In Love Again," a slow jazz number by Peggy Lee/Cy Coleman/Bill Schluger.
Another treat for jazz lovers is Sue Matsuki's album, A New Take. Matsuki, who won the 2002 MAC Award for Best Female Jazz Artist, has crafted an album with musical director/arranger Gregory Toroian that gives a new spin to old jazz standards and a jazzy spin to some contemporary songs. Thus, jazz chestnuts like "The Shadow of Your Smile" and "Bluesette" are given a fresh coat of paint and songs not usually associated with jazz, such as Carly Simon's "Anticipation" and Janis Ian's "Love Is Blind," are given new shadings. Matsuki has a fresh, unaffected voice that envelops the songs like a glove, giving equal attention to melody and lyric (a rarity in the jazz world). For more information visit www.suematsuki.com.
It is hard to believe that it has been over a year since jazz/cabaret great Susannah McCorkle's untimely death. Her first album, Dream, has recently been re-released on CD and is an intriguing glimpse at the performer McCorkle would develop into. Recorded in 1987, Dream was a pick of the week by the New York Times and Billboard and it is easy to see why. Her lyrical genius is already firmly in place and highly visible throughout the album, as is her way of reinterpreting a number while remaining true to the song's 'voice.' Her love for a variety of material is also highly evident, as the album contains numbers by Cole Porter ("At Long Last Love" and "I Get A Kick of You"), Johnny Mercer ("Dream"), Antonio Carlos Jobim ("Triste"), Paul Simon ("Train in the Distance") and Leiber & Stoller ("Longings for a Simpler Time").
As an aside, lovers of Broadway and jazz would do well to check out two other albums by McCorkle: From Broken Hearts to Blue Skies, which contains a highly effective rendition of "Stop, Time" from Maltby and Shire's Big, and From Broadway to Bebop, which contains a plethora of Broadway-style tunes, including "He (She) Loves Me," (Bock and Harnick's She Loves Me), "One Of The Good Girls" (Maltby and Shire's Closer Than Ever"), and "Friend Like Me" (Menken and Ashman's Aladdin).
If you have stopped by Don't Tell Mama's piano bar, you probably have seen quite a number of talented performers, several of whom can also be found behind the bar or serving drinks. Two of them have released albums that are worth checking out, either by dropping into the bar or via email.
This year's MAC Award Winner for Best Piano Bar performer, Eric Pickering, has released a CD, Never Who, that showcases a side of him usually not seen at Don't Tell Mama. While Pickering is well known for his highly comic numbers and repartee, Never Who consists of songs that would get lost in the noisy atmosphere of a piano bar. Thus, it is a treat to hear him sing songs like a pairing of "Yesterday/The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" and "Unusual Way." While Pickering is effective on Broadway tunes like "Who Can I Turn To?" and "Lilly's Eyes" (sung with Donald Birely), it is the more contemporary pop-type numbers on which he truly shines: Stephen Schwartz's "Crowded Island," the infectious and hysterical "So What?" by Christopher Marlowe/Bobby Belfry, and the title tune by Karen Mack. For more information or to order his CD, visit www.ericpickering.com.
One of my favorite piano bar performers, Jennifer Pace, has released a mini-CD (in terms of length, not physical size) that needs to be expanded into a full-blown album. From the sweetly playful "Them There Eyes" to the touching "Do Nothing 'Til You Hear From Me" (which includes its rarely performed verse) and a whistful "The Nearness Of You" the album showcases Pace's incredibly emotional and supple voice and it is a treat to hear her sing standards not usually sung in the noisy confines of a piano bar. To buy the album, visit Don't Tell Mama in New York or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sugo Music, in association with National Geographic, has released a series of albums devoted to the music of specific locales. Their Destination: New York CD is a perfect introduction to the world of cabaret, as it is a compilation of eleven of New York's finest performers. While the focus is decidedly 'old guard,' (Bobby Short's "Manhattan," Julie Wilson's "The Man I Love," Mary Cleere Haran's "Harlem On My Mind" Andrea Marcovicci's "Goodnight New York," and Audrey Lavine's "I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues"), it does provide a good mix of younger, established performers as well (Billy Stritch's "Mountain Greenery," Ann Hampton Callaway's "Mr. Paganini," KT Sullivan's "Blue Grass"). Several Broadway stars are also represented (Karen Mason's "Taking a Chance on Love," Betty Buckley's "Just The Way You Look Tonight," and Christine Andreas "Autumn in New York"), which makes for a delightful slice of New York cabaret life. The album is well produced and is filled with photographs and artist information. It also contains a pull-out map of the city that highlights various cultural institutions and cabaret rooms (which is not the most inclusive, as it neglects to include Don't Tell Mama). To order the CD or listen to samples, visit Sugo Music's Destination: New York page.