ALBUM REVIEW: BeBe Neuwirth, Porcelain

l have fallen in love with the story song. It’s an avenue I’ve always liked, but I had never heard a story song sung by BeBe Neuwirth before till recently. There are not many words that describe her talent, besides genius and brilliant. Her 2011 album Porcelain leaves everything on the table. Nobody tells a story as complete as Ms. Neuwirth.

Now many of us know Neuwirth as Lilith Sternin Crane from Cheers and Fraser and for her show-stopping performances on Broadway. Since moving to New York, I have tried to immerse myself in Broadway performers, so once I found out Neuwirth was a Tony winner, I prayed for solo work.

I quickly found Porcelain and I have had the album in constant rotation since. This record overwhelms me in story, interpretation, and style. Neuwirth cannot simply sing a song, she becomes the song. One cannot see music, but Neuwirth brings each song to near visual life.

With this album Neuwirth, a professionally trained and accomplished dancer uses her dancing techniques through a new channel, her voice. This album opens with “The Bilbao Song.” Each line is met with grace and poise as she tells the story of Bill’s Beer Hall in Bilbao. These elements allude the entirety of the album.

A few tracks later, Neuwirth invites us to the blues, the famous Tom Waits anthem. With “Invitation To The Blues,” Neuwirth is able to massage these lyrics into a new identity. She gives this song brass and vulnerability in this cabaret arrangement. One can feel the dusty hotel room and smell the cigarette smoke.

My personal favorite comes in at track 5. “Mr. Bojangles” is a well-known song done by some of the elites, but like I’ve said before, nobody tells a story like Neuwirth. She takes you on an emotional journey of complete happiness to complete sorrow with a resolve of contentment. Her vocal phrasing nearly brings me to tears as she sings about Mr. Bojangles’ dog passing, yet I smile as she tells the story of his dancing career. This song is one of complete brilliance.

One cannot ignore the Kander and Ebb classics “Ring Them Bells” and “But The World Goes Round.” Each of these songs I knew previously from different artists, but their inertia didn’t hit me the same. Neuwirth tells the story of Shirley Devore with humor to a hoppy piano accompaniment that can only make one smile.

Then there is the passion she gives “But The World Goes Round.” Again, I can feel the kicks in the shins as Neuwirth’s voice whirls around this piece. It’s a big finish and Neuwirth gives her body and soul in this simple arrangement.

This same passion is quietly channeled in another Waits’ classic, “Shiver Me Timbers,” with the final closing of the album “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Again, one can visualize the sand shiftin’ as Neuwirth caresses “Shiver me Timbers.”  All the familiar places come to life in “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Her voice is fragile, as if it can be harmed by a feather, as she bids farewell to a lost lover….or is it her audience?

Neuwirth is divine. That’s the only word I can find to describe her performance on this album. As I mentioned before, one cannot see music. Even as a singer sings, one cannot tangibly grab a note. The closest visual we get to music is from dancers. That’s exactly what Bebe Neuwirth’s voice accomplishes through each story she tells.

ALBUM REVIEW: Liza Minnelli, New Feelin’ – She’ll Do As She Pleases

For my fourth installment for Women’s History Month, I bring you Liza Minnelli! I was extremely excited to see her Facebook live event this week with Michael Feinstein. You can watch that video here. Ms. Minnelli looked amazing and most importantly, she looked happy!

It was also Ms. Minnelli’s birthday yesterday, Sunday, March 12th. The legend turned 71 years old, but she shows enough energy to compete with any of today’s entertainers. Michael Feinstein also dropped a little teaser on his Facebook that he and Ms. Minnelli are working on shows for 2018, of which I have to say…..

Liza, take your time. We’ll still be here ready for you when YOU are ready.

Liza Minnelli, New Feelin'With all this Minnelli excitement, I decided to revisit one of her albums that has always stood out to me, her 1970 release, New Feelin’. This album took on a new direction for Minnelli and it gave many many American standards a new identity.

This album takes songs like “How Long Has This Been Going On?” “The Man I Love,” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine” and gives them a pop and soulful twist with a hint of folk stylings. We all know Minnelli can deliver these American classics unlike any other artist, but this album presents them in a completely new way.

Fun Fact: This record was recorded at Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

The album starts out with a funky, horn-filled version of “Love For Sale” by Cole Porter. She then immediately goes into the classic ballad “Stormy Weather.” This song is filled with heavy piano and gospel inspired background vocals. Then comes one of my favorite tracks from the album, “Come Rain or Come Shine.” This song sounds like something straight out of Motown’s vault if Motown was located in Nashville. Then there is that ending note that just doesn’t stop shining.

Side Two also comes with plenty of new experimental arrangements of these classics. “How Long Has This Been Going On” is mixed with an enthusiastic horn section and sounds Americana in style. Then Ms. Minnelli covers Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child, a song she would sing to near perfection two years later on her award-winning TV concert, Liza With a “Z”. This version adds more backing vocals giving it a doo-wop feeling mixed with gospel stylings.

Liza Minnelli, New Feelin'Lastly, there is Ms. Minnelli’s standard, “Maybe This Time.” This takes on a completely new image. This starts out as pure country. As the song progresses, it begins to take on a blues facade with rhythmic bass, horns, and melancholy backing vocals. Although this song does not have its usually dramatic deliverance, it is still a gem in its own right. This song is about taking that first step to self-fulfillment. Ms. Minnelli delivers this message with the same conviction she always does, but just a little more casual.

This album takes songs that people twice her age at the time were singing. She was known for performing these same selections in her live shows. On New Feelin’, she gave these compositions a twist of her own. Her vocals remained constant, shattering every ceiling, but they still felt right with these different arrangements. Ms. Minnelli just does as she pleases.

Revisiting this record has me pumped for what Ms. Minnelli is planning for her fans, but more importantly, it has me excited for where she is in life. I hope and pray she is truly happy, relaxed, and self-assured that she is loved. In her recent interview with Michael Feinstein, Ms. Minnelli spoke directly to her fans stating, “You are what make me happy. I mean it….and I love you.” You hear celebrities say that all the time. The odd thing is, Ms. Minnelli sounds like she means it. I know she meant it.

So join me in celebrating Ms. Minnelli’s career and whatever she damn well pleases to do.

Unfortunately, this album is not on Spotify, but I did find these on some of her compilations.