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4 Nostalgia

I am feeling old today. I just realized that both my favorite musical, Sweeney Todd, and the first song I actively fell in love with, "I Will Survive," hit the scene 22 years ago. This not only means that people born that year have been drinking for at least a year (at least legally), but that I am now as far removed from Sweeney Todd as it was from 1957's nominees for Best Musical: My Fair Lady, Bells are Ringing, Candide and Most Happy Fella. To make me feel a little better (and give another generation the chance to feel ancient), I did some calculating and came up with a startling realization. Do you realize that we are now as distant from the classic songs of The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Petula Clark and Hair as they were, in turn, from the classic songs of Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, Jerome Kern and the early songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein? Now what I find so astonishing about this is that when we think of nostalgic songs, we still focus on ones from the '30s and '40s; the very songs that people in the '60s and '70s were considering classic songs from a previous generation as well.

Interestingly enough, two performers, Liz Callaway and Andrea Marcovicci, have almost simultaneously released albums that revisit the songs from their youth, Liz with The Beat Goes On and Andrea in Here There and Everywhere. It is hard to imagine two performers with more diverse performing backgrounds and styles than these two. Liz Callaway is best known for being a Broadway singer with a strong soprano belt. Andrea Marcovicci, on the other hand, is less renowned for the strength of her pipes as she is for being one of the foremost interpreters of lyrics on the concert and cabaret stage. Needless to say, their albums reflect these differences and what is more, provide a fascinating glimpse at how two performers can tackle identical themes and even the same songs, yet interpret them entirely differently.

Here There and EverywhereHere There And Everywhere is based on Andreas's recent cabaret show, Marcovicci Sings Our Songs: 1965-1985. In the show, Andrea made the compelling argument that writers from her generation, such as Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Judy Collins, and John Denver, are on par with the classic songwriters from her parents' era and that these composers did, indeed, write songs that we should consider to be 'standards.' While Andrea is one of those rare performers who could sing the phone book and make it sound lyrically mesmerizing, she does make a strong case for this, both in her show and on her album. In her eyes, a 'standard' can be defined as a song that, when performed, causes a large portion of the audience to smile in shared memory. One such song, in her opinion, is the classic John Denver tune, "Leavin' On A Jet Plane," as it is hard not to recall that song whenever one packs for a trip.

While her CD contains a few songs which have become staples in cabaret, such as "Downtown" (Nancy LaMott's recording being the non-Petula definitive version) and The Beatles' "In My Life," Andrea has made some surprising re-discoveries. One of the most emotionally charged numbers on the album is "For No One" by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, which Andrea compares to a Sondheim tune in terms of its brutally honest lyrics. Other highlights include a touching version of Stevie Wonder's "All In Love Is Fair" and the Jim Croce classic, "Time In A Bottle." The CD is minimally orchestrated by Glenn Mehrbach and Shelly Markham with accompaniment consisting solely of piano and various percussion devices. This makes for a spare album that forces you to actively listen to the songs as they are stripped of the bells and whistles that normally comprise pop music.

There are few performers capable of getting under a song's skin like Andrea, and while many will (and have) argued that songs like "Feelin' Groovy" and "The Way We Were" are an odd departure for a performer long associated with the best songwriters of both past and present, she does provide one with an opportunity to decide whether or not there are lyrical depths to these songs, many of which have been considered fluffy throwaway numbers. The highlight of the album is a breathtaking interpretation of one of the true bona fide standards to come out of the decades in question, "Send In The Clowns," which ranks alongside Dame Judi Dench's as being the definitive version.

The Beat Goes OnIn The Beat Goes On, Liz Callaway takes a more traditional approach with the material and simply revels in the joy of singing songs she fell in love with growing up. The songs are not reinterpreted by either Liz or her arrangers, Lanny Meyers, Larry Moore and Alex Rybeck, and Liz focuses mainly on the more carefree and fun-loving songs of the era, such as "Frank Mills," "Up, Up and Away," and "Wouldn't It Be Nice?" Even on songs that have a darker emotional core, such as "Monday, Monday" or "Leavin' On A Jet Plane," she does not delve too deep into the depths. It is interesting, in fact, to look at "Leavin' On A Jet Plane" as it is one of the six songs recorded by both Andrea and Liz. As filtered through Andrea, you know that the singer has no illusions about ever returning to her lover and wearing his wedding ring, and in fact would rather the person stay asleep so she can slink away. In Liz's much more innocent version, one gets the feeling that she'll be back after a weekend jaunt, during which she will miss her intended horribly and count every moment until she returns. Both interpretations are valid and well done, and this is not meant to imply that Liz is incapable of plumbing the emotional depths of a song.

The album's most riveting song, both vocally and arrangement-wise, is a searing version of "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" The musical progression from simple nursery rhyme, to lyrical romance, to intense military march, to pounding funereal peals, and back to simplicity provides the most goose-bump inducing moment on either album.

I would include both albums on a 'should buy' list. The Beat Goes On is a wonderful summertime album perfect for outdoor parties or to sing along with on road trips with the top down. And while Here There And Everywhere is not Andrea's strongest CD (I'll Be Seeing You-Love Songs of World War II, Always, Irving Berlin and New Words being more essential 'must have' albums), it offers a refreshing and thought provoking look at music often passed over as inconsequential. In addition, both albums offer bonus tracks that are highly enjoyable. Andrea's features Shelly Markham's "The Sweetest Of Nights And The Finest Of Days," which is rapidly approaching cabaret standard status and Liz's album includes "Here There And Everywhere" when purchased through Fynsworth Alley's website.

Denise DirenzoHot on the heels of the previous albums came Denise DiRenzo's CD, Sweet Refrain. Intriguingly enough, all three albums contain the quintessential '60s tune, "Feelin' Groovy." While Andrea's version takes a leisurely, semi-bluesy (and occasionally trippy) path and Liz gives it an infectiously joyous spin, Denise makes it mellow to the point of comatose and effectively fuses it with "Ooh Child." Indeed, the entire album is a laid back and surprisingly effective treat.

Denise, who appeared on Broadway in Cats and A Chorus Line as well as the original Broadway casts of 42nd Street and Sophisticated Ladies, has been making strong headway into cabaret this year with a well-received show at Judy's Chelsea. The album is wonderfully arranged by Christopher Marlowe and David Brunetti and offers several surprising and delightful arrangements, my favorite being the Bach flavored version of "Pick Yourself Up." Denise has a remarkably expressive voice which displays great range and timbre and on Sweet Refrain she offers a well thought-out mix of songs largely dealing with childhood and love.

Several of the numbers are by David Friedman, including two premier recordings; the touching "In Her Father's Eyes" and the country flavored "The Path To Love," co-written by Denise. The sole flaw to my ears and sensibilities is an ill-considered scat section which derails an otherwise superb arrangement of "Almost Like Being In Love." It just did not match the rest of the album nor was it well suited for her voice and style. However, this should not stop you from purchasing what is overall an incredibly impressive debut album. For more information on Denise and how to order her albums, visit her website, www.denisedirenzo.com.

Where Do I Go From YouFor a more traditional nostalgia fix, may I whole-heartedly suggest Philip Chaffin's big band CD, Where Do I Go From You? Possessing a rich tenor voice that simply melts into the songs and becomes another instrument in the 40-plus piece orchestra led by Eric Stern, Philip is so perfectly suited for the material that it makes you long for a return to the '30s and '40s. Several of the songs, including the title song by Arthur Schwartz and Dorothy Fields, are receiving their initial recordings and the album is a treasure trove of familiar and unknown material. For every standard like "The Way You Look Tonight" there is an unfamiliar number like "Can't Teach My Old Heart New Tricks," a poignant gem by Richard Whiting and Johnny Mercer cut from Hollywood Hotel. There is not a single misstep on this album, in no small part thanks to producer Tommy Krasker who helmed both of Audra McDonald's CDs as well as one of my favorite albums, Dawn Upshaw's I Wish It So. For more information as well as a sample of the album visit http://www.psclassics.com/


-- Jonathan Frank


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