Past Reviews

Sound Advice Reviews

"D"-lightful: Douglas, Dromard & Davar, Dixon/Allee:
(each with a Cole Porter song)
Reviews by Rob Lester

Seeing something by Cole Porter on a recording's track list always gets my attention. But the three collections considered this time all have plenty more that's worthy of attention.

Club44 Records
CD | Digital

Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" brightly begins the group of 11 songs titled Back to the Garden, the new release by singer Natalie Douglas. She's somewhat of a cabaret chameleon; her vocal sounds can be honeyed or husky, tender or torchy, and she shifts gears from cozy crooning to belting climaxes–sometimes within the same song. She can effectively seem fragile or forceful (with, respectively, the romance-besotted "You'll Never Know" and the point of view of a prisoner breaking rocks on a chain gang in "Work Song").

Back to the Garden is named for a line in Joni Mitchell's tale of "Woodstock," its lyric receiving an involved reading, while the music gets a driving rock beat. The set's oldest selection is the spry 99-year-old "Who?" (Jerome Kern/ Oscar Hammerstein & Otto Harbach, from the musical Sunny), which is bouncy and cheery, while the newest is the fervid declaration "Love Is the Power That Heals Me," written expressly for Natalie Douglas by the record label's founders Joel Lindsey and Wayne Haun, who are among the producers, the latter also providing orchestrations. Musicians include the singer's longtime music director/pianist, Mark Hartman.

The debut recording by Natalie Douglas was back in 1999 and until now there have only been two others, so fans of the popular performer will be gratified to know she got back to the recording studio for Back to the Garden.

CD | Digital

The Cole Porter choice for the collection by Nic & Desi (the married couple Nicolas Dromard and Desirée Davar) is "I Get a Kick Out of You" and it's evident from what's projected in their upbeat performances that they get a kick out of what they do together. He even changes a word in the song's introductory verse, personalizing what was "your fabulous face" to sing it as "Desi's fabulous face." Although each sings some sections of songs solo, all the tracks have them duetting. These include some famous numbers we don't usually hear done by a vocal duo, such as "Over the Rainbow" and "Being Alive." The latter's usual intensity is more restrained here.

Full of stage and screen classics, some of the material on La Vie en Rose reflects musical theatre roles they've done. Their singing voices are clear and bright, the energy is positive, and the ambiance is mostly old-school breezy, especially on three Irving Berlin numbers. Other choices include "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and two versions of "You Make Me Feel So Young": one with a very young guest chiming in, their daughter ZĂ©lia. The accompaniment features six musicians, including Mr. Dromard on flute and producer Daniel Weidlein on sax and clarinet.

Retro and respecting the repertoire's origins, La Vie en Rose is sunny, unpretentious entertainment. Nic and Desi's live act can next be seen on Saturday afternoon, March 23, in midtown Manhattan at Green Room 42–and it's livestreamed, too.

Indianapolis Jazz Foundation/ Owl Studios
CD | Digital

Cole Porter's song "Love for Sale," first for sale as a recording in 1931 but banned from the radio by most stations then, has survived all these years to be recorded by many singers and bands. A new and vibrant version of this number from the score of the musical The New Yorkers, featuring a vocal by Amanda King, is a highlight of The Rob Dixon/ Steve Allee Quintet's new release, Standards Deluxe. The set is a combination of (you guessed it) old standards and five fine original melodies written by saxophonist Dixon, who is also the producer. He and pianist Allee each arranged three tracks. Joining them on all the dozen selections is bassist Nick Carter, with trumpeter Derrick Gardner and drummer Kenny Phelps on board for the instrumentals; Greg Artry is on drums for the six standards with vocals. The recording is bookended by two versions of the jazz classic "Caravan": one vocal, one instrumental, both sizzling, but in totally different ways.

While the saxes of Mr. Dixon (soprano and tenor) are prominent and powerful, everybody gets opportunities for focus and the interplay is one of the assets. I think dyed-in-the-wool jazz fans as well as the more casual visitor to the genre can take pleasure in the original compositions that are atmospheric and varied. And the half-dozen vocal tracks are very strong; Amanda King is a rich-voiced performer who takes command, digging into both music and lyrics with care and nuances. She casts a romantic spell with "The Very Thought of You" at a relaxed tempo, and in the Gershwins' "Love Is Here to Stay," she seems to be dancing with the pianist in a livelier, playful mood. Standards Deluxe is an appealing mix.