Sound Advice Reviews
Female vocalists named
Here are three women singers who have grabbed my attention. We can always count on flair and fun with long-careered Marilyn Michaels. When Marty Elkins takes the mic, it's only Mike Richmond (co-billed) as accompanist. Mayita Dinos debuts with grace. So, do these folks have anything in common besides talent and first names beginning with the letter M? Well, we see that two of the recordings have themes dictating subject matter, two coincidentally include "Lullaby of the Leaves" (the other, instead, opts for "Lullaby of Broadway"), two call on the oeuvre of Duke Ellington, and English is not the only language two of the ladies sing in. (Make that all three, if you count scat-singing!)
Whether you begin or end a long day's journey into night with Let There Be Night, I think you'll find that its nocturnal musical scenes starring Marilyn Michaels make for quite a showand show a veteran's versatility. Covering these songs that explore the hours after dark often takes her to lonely moods of darker despair, like the Kurt Weill/ Maxwell Anderson title song of the musical Lost in the Stars or her dismay and yearning for "Last Night When We Were Young" by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg and "Blues in the Night" by Arlen and Johnny Mercer. But sometimes in Let There Be Night she will let there be lightheartedness, such as the same Mr. Mercer's optimistic "Dream" showing up unannounced (indicated separately on the printed line-up of the tracks, a sizable chunk of it is incorporated in the peppy period piece from the 1950s, "Mister Sandman"). And another full vacation from any woe arrives with "Lullaby of Broadway," a brisk but brief romp. (It's barely 90 seconds long, but does the trick.)
Several of the 16 tracks, including those mentioned so far, are souvenirs of sessions with the late Barry Levitt (keyboards and orchestrations), while the others have keyboards, orchestrations, and vocal arrangements by Mark Berman who co-produced and co-arranged tracks with the singer. Son Mark Wilk is credited as director. The singer settles into the musical settings, lingering languidly in moods and musing over lost loves.
Vulnerability and uncertainty raise the stakes on the 1934 Schwartz/Dietz classic "You and the Night and the Music" which includes the rarely recorded introductory verse. Elsewhere projected are resilience and a survivor's sense of irony or moving on. (Cole Porter's "It's All Right with Me" gets all that right.) Shrugging off the potential of a self-pity party in "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" (Duke Ellington/ Bob Russell), note the cocky asides: Added after the line "Been invited on dates" is "Yes, I have!" And the inserted "oh, baby" doesn't doesn't sound like someone heartbroken by a romantic break-up.
Idiosyncratic and drawing on an arsenal of sounds and surprises, she can start off conversationally, infuse lyrics with attitudes through wearied sighs, affect a coquettishly girlish stance, and leap to a startlingly high note or rumble in her lower register. A distinctive vibrato adds drama. We can also hear fleeting suggestions of sensibilities of Borscht Belt comedy or her belt power. Extra zing for splashy moments comes into play when the entertainer decides to clone rather than sing alone, i.e. layering on extra vocals. Not one to be held back or be typed, she also leaps into a chance to rock out and strut through Bob Seger's 1980 "Betty Lou's Gettin' Out Tonight."
Her spot-on skills with impressions of celebrities are on dazzling display as she spins through 30 cases of deft identity theft, nailing the tics and timbres of diva after diva, including Ethel Merman, Patti LuPone, Carol Channing, Julie Andrews, and Liza Minnelli. The vehicle is the (usually plaintive) ballad by Sergio Mendes/ Marilyn & Alan Bergman "So Many Stars" (its title getting a second meaning with this head-spinning litany of famous ladies). It's almost eight minutes long and indeed a hoot.
But, waitthere's more: Ms. Michaels takes breaks from the English language and 20th century popular music for operatic whirls through "Nina" and Mozart's "Queen of the Night." She could deserve such an honorary title and coronation with the tour de force of varied evening shades that entertainingly make up Let There Be Night!
Note: It's only available now as a physical CD. Not submitted for review is a separate "bonus sample CD" only available when purchasing by mail through her website, and an autographed photo will also be sent.
Two's companywho needs a crowd to be lost in? The count of people providing vocals, instrumentals, arranging and producing for the refreshing 'Tis Autumn comes to a grand total of two. The well-deserved, full-company bow goes to vocalist Marty Elkins (she also produced the recording) and Mike Richmond (who plays bass, sometimes switches to cello, and did the striking match's arrangements). Each has a direct, non-fussy approach to the material they sail through with judicious jazz shadings that keep them accessible to a wide audience. His expertise and precision combined with her clean, clear voice flatter the flow of the melodies. Lyrics come through with clarity and an ease suggesting ownership, achieved through nuance rather than opting for grand dramatic flourishes. They bend or dwell upon some notes, which can result in a word that's not the one usually stressed getting emphasis.
Although there are only 10 tracks, each exceeds four minutes in length, with three passing the five-minute mark. Creating an intimate atmosphere, the artists seem as much at home with each other as they are with the selections. It's truly a duo project, with the oft-recorded instrumentalistwhose impressive credits include work with heavy hitters like Miles Davis and a lengthy tenure with Stan Getzgetting plenty of solo spotlight. While the repertoire all comes from the first half of the 20th century, that fact doesn't cue any sense of emulating period-specific styles or nervously handling antiques. 'Tis Autumn is named for the song (by Henry Nemo) that's now 80 years old, with a lyric that starts off telling about the north wind being called upon by Old Father Time, but nothing sounds old in the breezy Elkins/Richmond treatment. Similarly, "Old Devil Moon," settling into a cozy groove, defies that first word of its title and feels easily timeless.
Here's a note to those whose reference point is often a theatre production or cast recording: "Old Devil Moon," from Finian's Rainbow, jumps out as the big item created for a book musical, but almost all the others on this album have found their way to The Great White Way. Heard for just 10 performances in 1932, in a revue called Chamberlain Brown's Scrap Book, was "Lullaby of the Leaves," smooth and soothing here. Jukebox musicals are where theatregoers of later generations have encountered others: the two Duke Ellington works ("In a Mellow Tone" written with Milt Gabler; "I Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues," written with Don George, the recording's outlier mildly downbeat change of pace); "Honeysuckle Rose," used in three Broadway projects; "Stairway to the Stars" presented in Stardust: The Mitchell Parish Musical; the sentimental "My Mother's Eyes" employed in Jersey Boys. And landing Off-Broadway was "When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along" in Jolson & Company. This last-named old sweet songwhich tells of that bird as springtime's herald with its "old sweet song"bubbles with irresistible cheer.
Whether crooning or amiably scat-singing, Marty Elkins stands out as cool, calm and collected here in her sixth collection to be released. Being mindful that joyful songs can work wonders for troubled minds, it's interesting to know that this singer's other career has been as a music therapist for hospitalized psychiatric patients in New York City. May the area's music venues and their customers be able to welcome back 'Tis Autumn's songbird in person before 'tis autumn again.
Very welcome sunshiny rays of positivity beam out from Mayita Dinos with her debut recording. The singer is believably blissful as someone celebrating and surrendering to the soothing sounds of a "Lullaby of the Leaves," or hoping in her next life to "Come Back as a Flower" (the tender piece penned by Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright). Serene and pensive, she glides through The Garden Is My Stage, a themed collection celebrating things in the natural world. She comes across as a sensitive flower child who morphed into a loving Earth Mother. The palpable affection for her subject matter isn't surprising; she's been a landscape designer for many years. But don't be led down the garden path to assume that her taking singing seriously is a brand-new whim; she's been doing so with live engagements in places such as the coincidentally/appropriately named California cabaret venue, The Gardenia.
While the topics being addressed and caressed in song are limited to what would be garden-related, there is a diversity of musical genres, styles and instrumentation among the 13 tracks. Garden's items have their roots in jazz, pop, poetry and more. A few selections show her ease with Spanish (she was born in Puerto Rico). We get Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova melodies in the stately standard "Willow Weep for Me." Triggering memories of specific places and time periods are "Woodstock" and "Spanish Harlem." Arranger Dori Amarillo's guitar work is heard on almost all cuts, with some also especially benefiting from atmospheric enhancements via flute, flugelhorn, trumpet and sax.
The sense of communing with Nature and a comfort level with the technique of personification feel authentic. The singer shows herself to also be a capable writer. She offers her own new lyric for Charlie "Bird" Parker's "Ornithology" ("We seem to grow wings and fly/ Soaring way up above the tallest trees/ Swooping way down ...") and setting the Spanish words of poet Federico Garcia Lorca to her own effective melody for "La Lola." For this short but arresting track, she's accompanied only by a bassist (Gabe Davis).
A gentle spirit permeates the proceedings. However, when a feeling of abandon can be beneficial, the admirable tender loving care of the singing sometimes borders on perhaps seeming cautious in navigating trickier trajectories. Still, the rhapsodic renditions wash over the listener and persuade agreement with devoted statements like "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" (by Billy Strayhorn, just one of the jazz giants represented). Advice to fluffiness-resistant types wary of overdosing on a mega-volume of sunflowers, sunshine, and sunny outlooks: this Garden may grow on you.