Past Reviews

Sound Advice Reviews

"Dreamy" female vocals
Beverley Beirne, Kristin Callahan, Dara Tucker
Reviews by Rob Lester

We all have dreams. Here are three women singing about some of them, with that "D" word in the title of each collection. The first two have had two prior releases and the third one is on her fourth. So, let the dreaming—and discussion—begin!

33 Jazz

Do you think of dreams as being only delicate, elusive and ethereal? Come experience a wake-up call with Dream Dancer from jazz singer Beverley Beirne and band and experience the way their dreams come true as truly driving, strong and powerful. Cole Porter's "Dream Dancing" doesn't tiptoe or float on fluffy clouds: it assertively trots and takes a torrid tempo. And when things do slow down, one isn't necessarily lulled to contentedly carefree peace or pace. No, it's a confrontation situation addressing the torturing "Day Dream" (Billy Strayhorn/ John LaTouche). And on "Pieces of Dreams" (also known as "Little Boy Lost") the Michel Legrand melody surrenders its usual tender touch, adopting a tougher stance, as does the lyric of Marilyn and Alan Bergman, now less sympathetic and weighted down with woe.

Admiring someone as a "Weaver of Dreams" brings in rosier, romantic hues. However, in love and love songs, some dreams die and some need to be shelved. In casual conversational mode, there's the shrugging warts-and-all acceptance of "Bill" (from the score of Show Boat), dismissing old fantasies ("I used to dream that I would discover/ The perfect lover ... I always used to fancy then/ He'd be one of those god-like kind of men ...").

The second word in the title of the diverting Dream Dancer also cues two invitations to get moving, with David Bowie's "Let's Dance" and a classic that has those same two words in its title: "Let's Face the Music and Dance" by Irving Berlin. But apart from their surface similarities, these generations-apart numbers aren't alike in style, tone or attitude, giving some evidence of the versatility of the British Beverley Beirne on this release.

Although she projects resilience and assurance, she can also reveal vulnerability without dissolving into a wimpy puddle of tears. For example, on "Winter Moon" (Hoagy Carmichael/ Harold Adamson) she is emotionally unguarded, with regret and upset that come from a love that ended, the word "goodbye" echoing in memory. Elsewhere reflecting on a break-up, her voice's deepest notes rumble with drama, impact added via a slight pause before the chagrin-colored last word of the title line of "Now We're Just Friends"; it adds sighed, sad realization. Duncan Lamont, its writer, played saxophone on this track on this and his "Old Brazil," shortly before he passed away.

A back-and-forth, fleet, frolicksome medley of two standards introduced on Broadway in the 1920s—"Fascinating Rhythm" and "Thou Swell"—is handled with aplomb. It's not handled as well in the liner notes and credits which describe the first, which has been voluminously recorded and performed, as an "under-the-radar tune" and Rodgers & Hart, the writers of "Thou Swell" aren't credited at all, while two others known as arrangers of instrumental treatments of standards somehow get their names listed on the medley.

Some of the fascinating rhythms and swell sounds here come courtesy of such fine musicians as bassist Flo Moore, percussionist Ben Brown, Rob Hughes on sax and flute, pianist Sam Watts (who co-arranged the selections with the singer) and producer Jason Miles, who sits in on keyboards for two tracks and adds strings. Dream Dancer dazzles and digs into its moods.

CD and digital

Come wander through the wall-to-wall, hushed and unrushed dream state governed by appealing singer Kristin Callahan and mood-setting musicians (bassist Eliot Seppa co-produces with her and did most of the arrangements, and there's also guitar, some trumpet, and plenty of percussion, but, notably, no piano).

After a perhaps misleadingly gentle and sweet 40 seconds of guitar, there's no easing into the quicksand of their sorrow-filled soundscapes because the mega-mopey Billy Strayhorn classic "Lush Life" provides an instant drop down a dour rabbit hole. And, like Lewis Carroll's famously falling Alice, we find ourselves swimming in a pool of tears, crying cued next by another jazz standard, "'Round Midnight." Therein, time seems to stand still as loneliness mounts, and the feel is indeed like being helplessly Lost in a Dream; yes, this collection filled with mesmerizing, murky moods has an apt title. It's also the name of the one song written by the vocalist—facing unrequited love, it's another pretty pity party ("In my heart I know you don't love me/ Still I stay/ Holding on, day by day/ I'm a fool to dream...").

Continuing the dream theme, Kristin Callahan captures the bittersweet essence of the lyric to a standard as we hear: "The shadow of your smile, when you are gone/ Will color all my dreams and light the dawn." Speaking of the dawn, "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise" is arguably handled in too offhanded a manner, as this piece mellowed out, to be shorn of its formal operetta origin, becomes so laidback/homogenized that neither the "passions that thrill love" nor "the passions that kill love" evoke much energy or heat, let alone contrast.

As far as the hope for happiness, not all is lost in Lost in a Dream, but almost. A rosier reverie shows its smiling face with "Caravan," the music exotic, the exultant affirmations "Our dream of love is coming true" and "This is so exciting" may be muted and almost muttered, perhaps paradoxically, but the ray of sunshine beams through. As often happens on this collection, the instrumentalists get lots of time on this track. In fact, the vocal doesn't even start until a full minute has passed, and there's a long break for the band midway, too. The longer instrumental patches can feel transportive, recalling movie soundtracks that bring us to another world or mindset.

At times the layers of dreamy atmosphere are laid on perhaps more thickly than needed to achieve the ambiance desired. The singer and/or song can seem to be partially blurred or upstaged by the swirls of sound, as if submerged behind some heavenly clouds or flowing silk curtains. Sometimes what might be clearer is almost lost on Lost in Dreamland, but the overall impact does certainly create intimacy. And that's crystallized with a crisper and spot-on track, "Once I Loved" spotlighting guitar accompaniment. There's a different version released as a single. (There is an error in the credits regarding the English lyric for this Antonio Carlos Jobim melody; credit is given to singer Astrud Gilberto, who did record it, but the words are by someone whose surname is coincidentally spelled mostly the same: Ray Gilbert.)

Kristin Callahan's restrained and minimalist style of singing, rationing voice, is an admirable skill when focus is maintained for long stretches. We can see why she's dream casting for her live shows that are tributes to Peggy Lee and Julie London. I'm eager to see what other paths the adventurous Lost in Dreams lady will find herself on in the future.

Green Hill Productions
CD and digital

"Lay your dreams right up to the sky" suggests the hopeful lyric of "Someday We'll All Be Free," included on a cool and ever-timely collection of life-affirming songs, Dreams of Waking: Music for a Better World. Here, the idea of "dreams" means not just what fills our heads when we're asleep, but rather wishes we have when we're awake and woke are what's meant by the title and contents of Dara Tucker's formidable offering. She embraces songs that are candidates for latter chapters of The Great American Songbook, post-"Golden Age," as material from the 1960s and '70s makes up much of the rapturous repertoire. It's potent stuff and she's a convincing, gutsy singer. The interesting and original arrangements were done variously by her, David M. Rodgers, and the collection's superb alternating muscular pianists: Cyrus Chestnut and Fortner Sullivan.

More of a socially conscious set, the selections refreshingly almost completely avoid the usual song topic of romantic love. It's only referenced in the set's one show tune, a lovely and persuasive rendition of "Make Someone Happy" from the Jule Styne/ Betty Comden and Adolph Green score to Do Re Mi.

Sensitive, altruistic songs that offer—or advocate for—kindness and caring for others don't get the kind of sentimentalized treatments that could curdle the milk of human kindness they are filled with. Thanks to invested phrasing and innovative, intense piano-driven arrangements, pop classics are reinvigorated. This good news applies to a soulfully empowering "You've Got a Friend" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water," with enabling strength personified by triumphant trumpet and sax adding to its balm-like effect. Then there are two similarly stated declarations, "What the World Needs Now Is Love" and "Love's in Need of Love Today." The latter, a melisma-filled vocal, is one of two pieces penned by Stevie Wonder; the other is the admonishing "You Haven't Done Nothin'" that mentions not an idealistic dream but conditions making for a real-life "nightmare."

The title of Dreams of Waking comes from a line in the thought-provoking "Do We Sleep?"; it's the one number Dara Tucker wrote for her classy collection, wondering if people will ignore problems or prioritize "promises and hopes for tomorrow." It's a somewhat calmer cousin to the also unsettling but more anguished question; it's Marvin Gaye's hit "What's Going On?" that is justifiably jittery over the evidence of societal problems and encroaching apathy. And Randy Newman's mournful, apocalyptic prediction of consequences that could result, "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" feels eerily relevant. Like so much here that has that "real deal" feel, whether optimistic or ominous, whether heartening or harrowing, it's treated with elegance and respect and is fully inhabited.

Bravo, Dara Tucker and company!