Some of this week's CDs have things in common. The two
female singers hail from California, three of the CDs have Richard Rodgers melodies,
two have the title song from the musical Lost in the Stars. But the thing that got my
attention is what they all have in common: they're all especially well done. It's been a
good week with my CD player on "repeat play."
If you know Shaynee Rainbolt's first CD, From This Moment On, you already know she's a fine singer who is a pleasure to hear, with a clear, clean sound. No complaints on that album. But with her sophomore effort, she has taken a giant step. Shaynee sounds so very confident and in charge, comfortable in her musical skin. She is At Home indeed!
Some of the best elements of her first CD have their counterparts in the new one. The first ended with a Harry Warren melody, the new one opens with another (a hard-driving full-steam-ahead "I Only Have Eyes for You," letting Shaynee race through the Al Dubin lyric unrestrained). Both have a smart balance of uptempo charts and ballads. Each has a clever Dave Frishberg selection ("Let's Eat Home" on the first, "Blizzard of Lies," co-written by Samantha Frishbert, on the new one). Each has a medley of two effectively intertwined songs. Mike Greensill, arranger (and pianist) on the the first is represented here on three charts, with additional work by this CD's pianist, Lee Musiker, who did five other arrangements on his own. (How lucky is Shaynee to get the creative Musiker between his gigs with Tony Bennett?) This time out, she has twice as many musicians: eight instead of four.
The musicians on At Home include the world class guitarist Gene Bertoncini (any album featuring him has a major head start), who is featured on an arrangement co-credited to him and Shaynee. It's a thoughtful version of "The Summer Knows," the bittersweet and haunting theme from the film The Summer of '42. Shaynee sounds wise and knowing in her reading of the Marilyn and Alan Bergman lyric that adorns the Michel Legrand melody, accompanied just by Gene who leads into it with the same composer's "Once Upon a Summertime." Shaynee ends perfectly with a held, high, pure note. The two also collaborate on "Moonglow" with its rarely included verse. This particular "Moonglow" has more of an "afterglow" feel with its warm sense of contentment. Gene gets a tasty solo on each, longer on this one.
Whereas From This Moment On has a lighter, relaxed, easy-going vibe for the most part, At Home has more of a sense of grown-up drama, some intriguing tension. "I Can't Make You Love Me," familiar from the Bonnie Raitt version, is a major highlight here. It's a heartbreaker, but done without histrionics or wallowing knee-high in tear-stained Kleenex. Shaynee radiates an intelligence on this track without sacrificing emotion. Two Sondheim songs are among the varied choices: "The Girls of Summer" and a non-frantic "Another Hundred People." Rodgers and Hart are represented by "It's Easy to Remember," one of the treatments most steeped in jazz. The aforementioned medley is a dreamy one and has youth on its mind: Peter Pan's "Never Never Land" and "Pure Imagination" from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The album is also notable for some hip humor, notably the attitudey "In These Shoes." On this track, she has fun cutting up with Judy Barnett, the smashing jazz singer who co-produced the CD with Scott Noll. Clearly, they knew what they were doing, and the sound is terrific. So is Shaynee Rainbolt.
(Shaynee will be performing a CD release show on Monday, May 22 in Manhattan at The Jazz Standard. Website: www.ShayneeRainbolt.com)
ANNE KERRY FORD
"My ship has sails that are made of silk .... and of jam and spice, there's a paradise..." sings Anne Kerry Ford on her new CD, Weill, and her voice sometimes resembles the smoothness of that silk and other times there's quite a bit of the spice. In that classic ballad, "My Ship," and most of the others, she finds more vocal colors and attitudes within one song than some singers present over the course of an entire CD. By the time the album ends with a noble yet pleading "Lost in the Stars," she has run the gamut. Anne sees and seizes many opportunities to bring out the potential of colorful words and lines - switching from a sweet tone to a harsh one, spitting out a phrase, letting go with a real cry in her voice and taking full advantage of a pause. With the dramatic and emotional theater songs all with music by Kurt Weill, she has material that can let her give full reign to her instincts and talents as an actress. Her acting resume includes everything from a Broadway stint as Grace in Annie to Shakespeare to a soap opera. She was also in the 1990 Broadway revival of Weill's The Threepenny Opera. From that score, Anne takes on the powerful "Pirate Jenny," "Solomon Song" and in an effective duet with Brian Lane Green, "Tango Ballad." All use the Marc Blitzstein translation of Bertolt Brecht's German lyrics. (Most of the CD was recorded live before an audience in the composer's native Germany, but except for a couple of lines, she sings everything in English.)
Weill's music has been an interest for some time, as revealed in a 1999 interview with Talkin' Broadway shortly before she began performing the songs coinciding with the composer's centennial. Wisely, she offers some relief from some of the famous heavy and, let's face it, depressing material with the satirical "Progress" (lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, from Love Life) and a playful, upbeat "One Life to Live," having fun with Ira Gershwin's witty lyrics from Lady in the Dark. "Tschaikowsky" from the same musical is less successful, as its claim to fame is as a tongue-twister at top speed, and done at a more comfortable pace, the long list of classical composer names comes off just like literally singing the phone book.
I admire this performer's fearlessness. Anne goes for broke in the melodramatic "Surabaya Johnny" and rages and sobs through this angry piece, presenting a believably tortured character. She rips through "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" (words by Ogden Nash, One Touch of Venus) with bravura and sarcasm, showy vamping and assertive sashaying as the brass blares. She sure knows how to the make the most of chosen consonants, too, making them as crisp or tough as over-baked strudel crust. A few ballads are here, but one calmer selection showcasing the prettier parts of her voice would be welcome. But maybe that's what her other two fine albums are for: Something Wonderful, a collection of songs with lyrics by Sondheim and Hammerstein, and her first CD, which begins with a Weill melody, "Speak Low." You can sample all of three CDs at www.AnneKerryFord.com, a website more informative than many, with a personal account of her Weill concert. On all of her CDs, her work is enhanced by the contributions of her husband, the talented guitarist-producer Robben Ford, and sensitive pianist John Boswell. Here, her big band arrangements are by Roger Kellaway, with as much impressive variety as Anne has in her vocal and actorly choices - and that's a lot.
THE BROADWAY MUSICALS OF 1949
Two serious Kurt Weill/ Maxwell Anderson songs come up on the concert recording of The Broadway Musicals of 1949. Robert Westenberg graces "A Little Gray House." Martin Vidnovic does the honors for Lost in the Stars' title song, which host-producer Scott Siegel reveals on the CD's included commentary was written years before the project was on the table. There are always interesting facts to be learned from these recordings from the Broadway by the Year series presented at The Town Hall in Manhattan, with the reliably right accompaniment by Ross Patterson and his "Little Big Band."
This CD (currently in limited release) from the one-night-only Broadway by the Year: The Musicals of 1949 event in April 2004 is especially satisfying. It has all kinds of songs: showy, comic and heartrending, and it includes four first-ever recordings of tunes, all from revues: Touch and Go, Along Fifth Avenue and All for Love. Three can be described as charming, just-for-fun pieces and one is a heavier number: "It'll Be All Right In A Hundred Years" from Touch and Go. It's sung by Scott Coulter with a strong sense of drama and a major sob in his voice. His other appearance lets him lighten up considerably as he and Marla Schaffel peppily partner with "Bye, Bye Baby" from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Marla also shows her range in a Regina selection ("What Will It Be?") that veers toward opera, and a bluesy "Mr. Monotony" cut from Irving Berlin's Miss Liberty. Two showpieces from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" and "A Little Girl From Little Rock," go to the concert's resident blonde vamp Cady Huffman, who delivers the goods.
Noah Racey and Nancy Lemenager, then fresh from Never Gonna Dance sang (and did dance) "No Time for Nothin' But You" from All for Love, a bit of fluff that is basically just a "list" lyric, but it's done with flair. Five classics from the year's big hit, South Pacific, are given over to very able theater stars: the majestic Martin Vidnovic and zesty Karen Ziemba. Her "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" is very moving, taken at a more thoughtful tempo that burns the lyric and its message into one's brain all over again, and it has a powerful climax.
My strongest memory of this concert is how moved I was by Lennie Watts' performance of Irving Berlin's "A Little Fish in a Big Pond," wherein Cady Huffman shares some sweetly sung sympathy. I'd always thought it was just a nice old musical comedy number, but somehow, Lennie found another level to it, a real humanity and sensitivity. Thankfully, all of that comes through on disc. He is also quite funny on the obscure put-on "Santo Dinero," thick on the schtick - and then has a really rousing showstopper, "The Big Movie Show in the Sky" (from Texas Li'l Darlin' by Robert Emmett Dolan and Johnny Mercer).
It's getting to be a habit here for me to talk about how entertaining and well done this ever-growing series of concert CDs is. It's the kind of pleasurable predictability I crave. And I'll try not to take it for granted, but to take them with gratitude.
UNDER THE RADAR
Very much from the jazz world, with the CD put out by the performer on his own, this may not be a name you know yet. I was glad to have it brought to my attention.
His voice is small, his charm is much bigger. Kelly Friesen is a bass player who also sings. Unassuming to the max, his modest vocals on the 14 tracks are surprisingly appealing. It's a cool little album, and certainly the instrumental elements are just as important. If you're not a jazz fan, or can't see the attraction of a minimalist approach to presenting a lyric, the merits of Kelly Friesen Sings of Love will be lost on you. Although I try not to compare one performer's style to a well-known voice, the model here is pretty clear and stated flat out in the press insert. It's Chet Baker, the great trumpeter whose singing voice, with its flaws and limitations, was affecting and vulnerable. Kelly even essays one of Baker's trademarks, "Let's Get Lost." Kelly's voice doesn't have that unique emotional nakedness and is quite straightforward, an extension of his musicality as a bass player. There's something amiable and relaxing about his work that makes me go back to it again and again.
Canadian-born Kelly has been living in New York for over a decade and has played in top jazz clubs like Birdland, The Blue Note and The Iridium. For a few years he also was part of a jazz band with Woody Allen, and was heard in his film Sweet and Lowdown. He has been on other recordings as well as a sideman and under his own name. Here he is joined by two guitarists (Bob Ward and Ed MacEachen), a trumpeter who doubles on flugelhorn (Charlie Caranicas), a sax man (Michael Hashim) and a drummer (Taro Okamoto). These New York-based players make a good low-key team, and everyone gets generous playing time. Kelly is especially effective when he takes bow in hand. His set list is made up of mostly well-known songs, including some from shows and movies. Among those are two by Rodgers and Hart, "My Heart Stood Still" and "Do It the Hard Way." On the latter tune (from Pal Joey) there's a nifty groove with a quick pace that's a ball. Two sensitive Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn collaborations from Frank Sinatra movies, "Time After Time" and "I Fall in Love Too Easily," suit Kelly well. Jazz standards, naturally, abound with nods to Ellington and Jobim.
After a day of listening to high-energy cast albums, rock or torch songs, I often like to unwind with something subtle and tasteful like this. You might find Kelly's sound samples at www.cdbaby.com refreshing and sincere, too. Kelly Friesen's CD album ends with the song "Goodbye" as an appropriate farewell.
... which leads me into my own "goodbye" -- until next week.