For your consideration: female vocalists Maude Maggart and Antoinette Montague, plus a reissue of the merry musical-mocking mega-hit My Fair Lady, which, paired with 16 reissued bonus tracks by its leading fair lady Nancy Walker, is very much a female vocal album, too.
Studio recordings and interaction with an audience demand different things and have different priorities. This live recording doesn't consistently capture the intensity and focus I've witnessed in several in-person performances by the singer. Its best moments shine and the majority of it is lovely. The sound quality and ambience vary (it was recorded at different times in three different venues) and it doesn't flow the way one wants a live performance to, especially when there is a theme or throughline. In this case, Maude is telling the story of her grandparents meeting and courting and how they look back on their youth. The three spoken sections are affectionately anecdotal segments which give perspective, but it would have been more effective to set up the story with some comments earlier than a quarter of an hour into the proceedings. Since she's telling the love story from a particular era, and her grandfather and grandmother were in the music business (she sang with bands, he played reeds), Maude uses songs from the late 1930s to revel in. And revel she does. When she gets fully immersed in a love song, it's real absorption for the listener, too.
Live recording, of course, can be fraught with perils, pitfalls and pressures. On this recording, there are moments of less-than-careful intonation, where more challenging melodic leaps and tempo changes become problematic. Here and there are times where the tone is uneven or strays briefly from satisfyingly smooth and becomes harsher. Some phrasing sounds tentative, but in the majority of the long program, Maude and her musical partners seem supremely confident and paint rewardingly romantic rhapsodies.
The majority of the songs are well-remembered standards, some blending one into another in medleys. A highlight is "Deep in a Dream" where the singer's acting skills really come into play. She's very in the moment here, thoughtfully shading the words and living them instead of just presenting them. This is storytelling without shortchanging the musical values. Maude provides a strong contrast between the escape of reverie and waking up to the cold reality of being alone before going into the related longing of the big band favorite, "I Had the Craziest Dream."
Lanny Meyers is the pianist-arranger on all tracks, with a few musicians guesting on some cuts, adding violin, cello, guitar and reeds. They're most effective when the arrangements are unabashedly passionate and allow for more dramatic flair and embellishments. Too busy? Not for me. The layers and counterpoint add to the interest and pulsing emotion. The medley of "You Go to My Head" and "Prelude to a Kiss" is a good example of taking the high stakes and shaky ground of love seriously and letting the psychological complexity be reflected in the musical expression.
Admirably, Maude Maggart is a singer who is still taking chances and growing. Her current cabaret act, called Good Girl, Bad Girl, is her best and most varied work yet. It evidences the fruits of her labors, whereas this fourth commercially released album shows some growing pains that preceded it. As always, her strengths and skill shine through in the best moments. Even the warhorse "Skylark" sounds fresh, as she segues into the very rare Kurt Weill/ Ann Ronell piece, "The River Is So Blue."
The CD offers many golden moments for the ears, with genuine communication and love lavished on great songs. Any Maude Maggart appearance on disc or stage is something to look forward to - very much.
Fifty years ago, for Broadway and London musical theater, My Fair Lady was the toast of the towns. Created for records, My Square Laddie roasted it, spoofing the Pygmalion-based plot and the score that were very much in the air. This month's demi-centennial concert of the Lerner and Loewe classic has kept it fresh in the minds and ears of New Yorkers, and the reissue of this quick but not well-known parody is well timed. Rescued from vinyl oblivion, the sound quality is good and the material still amuses, though the uneven comedy of the lyrics and dialogue by William Howe are often more silly than sharp.
The plot's gender/class reversal sets up a bet that an upper crust, properly spoken British man (a game Reginald Gardiner) is taught to adopt the accent, vernacular and attitudes of his brash Brooklyn mentor, played by Nancy Walker. ("I could learn ya how to talk good American," she boasts.) Lessons are learned and he's ready to "pass," and then it's off to the races where (spoiler alert!) he slips. Wonderful Walker steamrolls her way through the proceedings up to the end where she's grown accustomed to his face, stating her realization, "I'm Kinda Partial to His Puss."
No, this is not the long-lost, laugh-out loud ancestor of the polished parodies of musical theater like Forbidden Broadway, but there is a fair amount of fun. Of course, the more intimately acquainted you are with the original, the more you can appreciate the specifics in the parody. First-timers can enjoy the challenge of guessing which of Max Showalter's perky melodies heard in the overture will match which of My Fair Lady's songs with the melodic approximations of songs parodied, including referencing tempo and accompaniment figures. Arrangements are by Billy May and musical director Eddie Dunstedter. For example, there's "I Could Have Boozed All Night" for the man's exultation moment. Likewise, later in the album, enjoy the sung version of My Fair Lady's "You Did It"'s slangier equivalent, "I Gotta Hand It to You," with chipper quips nicely handled by ZaSu Pitts teamed well with wise-cracking Walker. Playing like a perhaps overextended comedy sketch, it is not a masterpiece of hilarity, but it is, fair and square, often pleasing.
The liner notes give a basic rundown of the stage, film and TV career of Walker (1921-1992). The 15 bonus tracks are all solos by her, mostly comedy songs from musicals. Many were recorded in 1955 and were issued on vinyl under different album titles. Included are numbers from shows she was in - but note that some that were recorded more than once may not be the versions you know. The first four are the earliest recordings (from 1941, and she sounds noticeably younger and more vulnerable) from the score of Best Foot Forward. Her Tony-nominated appearance in Phoenix '55 is represented by a trio of tunes that especially show her versatility and allow her to be wistful and witty. Lyrics are by her husband David Craig and she is accompanied on piano by the show's composer David Baker, who is pianist on most of the other tracks, too. Two from On the Town - "I Can Cook, Too" and "Some Other Time" - are always good to hear, though "I Can Cook, Too" doesn't sizzle quite the way her later, more brassy recording for the belated 1960 full-length cast album does.
A rare Gershwin item, "Oh, So Nice" is just that: it's a highlight, well-shaded and reflective. Fans of the better-known side of the comedienne have plenty to please them, with her raucous and rollicking romps with broad humor on personality-plus things like the pushy plea, "Get Married, Shirley" (Al Selden-Bert Shevelove), and the reluctant ode to a schlemiel of a non-Prince Charming boyfriend, "Irving." These are prime cuts for fans of theater and comedy songs, as well as for those of us who especially value the talents of this particular musical comedy star. Hopefully, her 1959 RCA record album of anti-love show tunes, I Hate Men will come into circulation on CD, too.
This generous-length (74:36) Sepia issue is another in their series of intriguing rediscoveries. Those who knew the recordings from the past will enjoy the reacquaintance, and newbies have a treat in store.UNDER THE RADAR
This Saturday, March 17, she is part of a program called "Jazz! The Women's Viewpoint" at Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium and she has her own viewpoint on some some standards, learning from her idols by osmosis.
A new singer on the recording scene, Antoinette Montague presents an earthy presence. She can be gutsy and gritty and then turn around and show a sensitive side that is especially unfettered and natural. Antoinette is a vocal chameleon, with her convincing gospel-tinged blues big sound totally unrelated to her gentler ballad personality. The title Pretty Blues is well chosen, because the renditions are alternately blastingly bluesy and pulled-back pretty. The title also refers to the included number "Pretty Blue" written by blues singer Joe Williams and pianist Norman Simmons.
Confident-sounding Antoinette surrounds herself with major jazz names here: pianist-arranger Mulgrew Miller, drummer Kenny Washington (who also produced and is credited as musical director), bass player Peter Washington, and Bill Easley on flute and tenor sax. The instrumental breaks are generous and most are very rewarding, occasionally outshining the singer on the more casually tossed-off songs like "From This Moment On." That Cole Porter number is mistakenly credited to Irving Berlin, whose "Blue Skies" and "How Deep Is the Ocean" get more involved readings here. Antoinette's work radiates with the sense that she's having a great time, really enjoying the material and performing. And she's not shy.
"Pure Imagination" misses the mark, treated a bit carelessly with a couple of lyric lines misread and no solid or consistent approach. On the other hand, the ballad "Dedicated to You," which has the potential to be overly sentimental and flowery, is understated and comes across as very sincere, sidestepping the sticky.
The lady can definitely wail and grasp the rasp in her voice when she chooses, fearlessly tackling a lament or celebratory mood. This is an impressive first album from a singer who sounds ready, or shall I say ready, willing and able to join the ranks.
Coming up this later month: Summer Of '42, reissued Stephen Sondheim scores, a treasure trove of tributes to iconic singers, and new discoveries well worth a stop, look and listen.