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: Paula Cole, Ballads – Uncanny & Reverent

I listen to a lot of albums. From Peter Gabriel to Beyoncé, I have found myself jumping between genres, while hitting every step along the way. I think I’m well rounded, while some would say I have ADHD.

There are two categories of albums I listen too. “Albums I like” is the largest category. This consists of the albums I hear and binge on a daily basis. These albums generally rustle my feathers and often give me goosebumps. Then there are the albums that make me stop and say, “Whoa, that is what music sounds like.” Those are few and far between.

Recently, I have found an album that has jolted me to a complete halt. That album is Paula Cole’s Ballads.

I can barely express how excited I am about this album. Once I listened to it on Spotify I immediately went to her website, ordered the vinyl version with signature, checked tour dates, and read countless articles on Cole’s career. I have never evangelized for an album, but I want to tell everybody about this masterpiece.

This is a Jazz album including many of the great standards like “God Bless The Child” and “Skylark.” But, then a wrench is thrown into the collection with such songs as “I Wish (I Knew How it Feels To Be Free)” and “The Ballad of Hollis Brown.” The album consists of 20 songs and was released by Cole independently on her 675 label.

So now it’s a Jazz/Folk/protest album. Also, did I mention it has a hint of Country?

The album begins with “God Bless The Child,” the Jazz classic written by Billie Holiday. The only word that can describe the orchestration to this arrangement is “rootsy.” It’s not your typical arrangement of Jazz, yet it completely encompasses everything that is Jazz. This idea stays with the entirety of the album.

Next, Cole goes into the protest song made famous by Nina Simone, “I Wish (I Knew How to Be Free).” Again Cole evokes an emotion that often gets lost in songs, the core meaning. This song has specific historical significance, but she makes the song relevant today.

“I Wish” is perfectly coupled with Bob Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” later in the album. “Lonesome” is one of my top 5. The way Cole presents a story song is like a movie. The listener sees everything in detail. She talks about the longing for justice that was desperately needed in the 1960s and still needed today. Her voice literally becomes the rag to dry your tears. The movies continue with the songs “Ode To Billy Joe” and “The Ballad of Hollis Brown.”

Cole gives the uptempo jazz greats a new facade as well with songs like “Never Will I Marry, ” Nice Work If You Can Get It,” and “You Hit the Spot.” These songs show Cole’s skilled vocal technique and her accomplished talent as an arranger. Not to mention her pitch-perfect melancholy tones on the great standards like “You’ve Changed” and “Autumn Leaves.”

The greatest feat of this album is how it portrays Jazz music. All of Cole’s vocals are Jazz in style and soul. Jazz doesn’t belong to a certain instrument or vocal method, it belongs to the approach and deliverance of a song. Jazz encapsulates love, heartbreak, and justice in its purest forms.

Cole then adds a second element to this album. Early in this article, I mentioned how the album feels “rootsy,” but I want to go a step further. This album echoes the foundation of music as a whole. It goes down to the very roots that hold music upright today. This album not only covers some of the best songs ever written, but it is also a tribute to the great musicians that have shaped modern music.

Inherently, I know Cole collaborated, discussed, and had multiple outside influences, but in the end, she was the sole producer of this album. The framework began in her mind, while others added color, yet she filled in the final details. This album is a testament that Paula Cole is a master at the art of music.

The way Paula Cole weaves the themes of heartbreak, injustice, love, happiness, and sorrow seamlessly on one album through Jazz is incredible. This album is so relevant it’s uncanny, yet so nostalgic it’s reverent.


Visit Paula Cole’s official Website here.

Check out her Twitter here.

Check out her Facebook here.

ALBUM REVIEW: Nina Simone, Baltimore -Still Speechless

Some artists you can’t figure out. These artists are often the ones I skip over when I’m choosing someone to write about. If I can’t emotionally get my mind and heart wrapped around their music and voice, how could I put words to it?

One of these artists is Nina Simone. Her voice is as sharp as a razor blade, as extravagant as a fur coat, yet as innocent and simple as a little girl. It penetrates your being and goes straight for the soul. Listening to her is a spiritual experience.

Nina Simone Baltimore
From my personal collection

I have many of Simone’s albums and with each album, I find a new gem. Sometimes it could just be the way she stylizes a song differently, on other albums it’s her own compositions. On one of my recent vinyl hauls, I found her 1978 album, Baltimore.

This album immediately took me by surprise. Nina Simone was singing reggae? I wasn’t complaining. I liked it. Songs like the title track “Baltimore” and her cover of Hall and Oates “Rich Girl” really show a different tone to her voice. It is different than every one of her previous studio albums. It’s innovative.

Although, this change was not welcomed by Simone. We all know Simone was a complex lady, but I truly believe she had a beautiful soul. In 1977 famed jazz producer, Creed Taylor, signed Simone to his label CTI. Simone was not one to do what she didn’t want to, yet her comment’s made about this album proves she did just that. The sessions were tense and she eventually recorded the album’s vocals in an hour and a half.

Yet, a master piece was still born.

First, I was immediately hooked to the second song “Everything Must Change.” Simone’s vocals glide over the words of this song like second nature. At this point in her life, both personally and professionally, she had experienced change, while also not experiencing enough change. On this recording, Simone’s melancholy vocals continue to take on different shapes to each listener’s situation years later.

Then there is Simone’s second ballad of the album, “My Father.” The song’s lyrics make a complete circle, but Simone’s vocals fill in all the space between the words. It’s brilliance.

Nina Simone Baltimore
From last.fm

On side B I found Simone’s “melody” of traditional Christian songs intriguing. Through my experience with Simone, she doesn’t often give a higher power credit, but in “Balm of Gilead” and “If You Pray Right,” she does just that. Her voice sounds completely content and joyful in “Balm of Gilead,” which is taken straight from the Holy Bible. “If You Pray Right” takes on a complete gospel spin that really isn’t Simone, but it’s a vocal style that many African-American singers get type cast into. She is the High Priestess of Soul though, and she can preach like no other! It’s nice to hear Simone in these less heavy songs as she brings a new identity to both of them.

When I first heard the album I thought it was an interesting avenue Simone traveled down musically. Then I did the research and found that she was disgusted with the album, but the listener can’t hear that. She gives 110% to a project she distastes. Why?

Nina Simone both, self-perceived and in reality, lived on the back burner. People knew she was always going to give her all and they took advantage of that. Even this could not mask her genius interpretation of emotion.

I’m just going to have to end here because I simply can’t think of anything else to say. Again, Nina Simone has left me speechless.

ALBUM REVIEW: Judy Garland, Judy In Hollywood

Artist: Judy Garland  Album: Judy in Hollywood Original Soundtrack- Judy Garland T.V. Show

I swear my whole series going through my selves of vinyl is not going to be over Judy Garland. It is just where I started! Tonight I listened to some of my favorite recordings from my favorite era in Garland’s career, the 1960’s.

Some may crack jokes or discredit this time in career due to her many troubles and what some inhollywoodperceived as “wear on her voice.” I take the exact opposite approach. I think these are some of her best vocals that show the rawest emotion. These were her “I have survived and have nothing to prove” performances. She was already a living legend.

All these recordings are from The Judy Garland T.V. Show. This was a short-lived series, but these recordings and performances are some of her best. The album was released by a label named Radiant, which seemed to only release Garland’s T.V. show performances and a variety of country albums. There is not a date on this album, but this was made after Garland’s untimely death in 1969.

This album focus’ on songs that Garland sang specifically from movies. Some of these tunes are from her own films like “A Couple of Swells” from Easter Parade and “The Boy Next Door”  from Meet Me in St. Louis as well as covers of songs from popular movies and shows.

The real take aways from this album are her covers. Garland is nearly flawless in her rendition of “As Long As He Needs Me.” This song compounds many of Garland’s true emotions she had through her many relationships, but it also touches on one of her biggest assets and crutches, her undying loyalty. Other great take aways from this album are “How About Me,” “Puttin’ On The Ritz,” and her tribute to her son, “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face.”

Key Tracks: “A Couple of Swells,” Medley of “You Made Me Love You,” “For Me and My Gal,” and “The Trolley Song,” “That’s Entertainment”

Deep Cuts: “As Long As He Needs Me.” “How About Me,” “Puttin’ On The Ritz”

ALBUM REVIEW: Bobby Darin, Darin At The Copa

Sometimes you find an album that makes you ponder 3 ideas:

  1. I wish this album would never end.
  2. If only time machines were real….
  3. Why the hell wasn’t I born decades ago?

These were my exact thoughts this week as I listened to Bobby Darin’s Darin at The Copa. Unfortunately, I am just now getting into the world of Darin, but he has quickly become one of my new favorites and this album solidified his distinct spot on my shelves.

Bobby+Darin+Darin+At+The+Copa+451154
http://www.991.com

I have been doing research on Darin and I think it is only fitting for my first post about him to be about this album for both his history and my sake. First, there is the matter that Darin performed this album at the Copacabana (Yes, the one with Lola). After doing some research on Darin, I found that this was his dream venue. He always wanted to play the Copa just like Frank Sinatra, except he wanted to sell more seats. Second, since moving to the New York City area, I am finding the historical music scene that surrounds this town fascinating and I can’t help but tear up when I wonder across these pieces of history.

This album is a collection of songs from Darin’s first appearance at the Copa. By the time his first stint at the Copa concluded, he had shattered their attendance records and performed to rave reviews in nearly every New York publication. He must have been the envy of every performer who regularly frequented the dinner club scene in New York and I think he is still the envy of many young performers today.

Darin At The Copa opens with a medley of an African-American spiritual, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and a song written in the same tone and style, “Lonesome Road.” “Chariot” is a traditional spiritual that has been around since the early 1900’s, whereas “Lonesome Road was written by Nathaniel Shilkret and Gene Austin in 1927 in the style of an African-American spiritual to wide commercial success. Darin pulled these off effortlessly and arranged the medley himself. It was a daring move for the young performer. This album was recorded in 1960 and he was promoting African-American song stylings. Proving, as I have discovered he often does, that he was always a few moments before his time. Change was already long overdue.

darinbobby
http://www.bobbydarin.net

Next, Darin goes into the standard “Some of These Days,” followed by his smash hit “Mack The Knife.” He then dives into the music of Cole Porter with “Love for Sale” and “You’d Be Nice to Come Home To.” “Love For Sale” is one of the biggest highlights of the entire album. He sings this song with a finesse of deception and loneliness. He took advantage of his vocals here and went rogue compared to many singers of the day. He then closes side A with another one of his hits, “Dream Lover.”

Side B opens with another song arranged by Darin, “Bill Bailey.” Oddly, this song also has roots in “Dixieland” and African-American tradition. This underlying tone shows that Darin was trying to be a change agent of the time not only with his vocals, but with his social conscience.  He then goes into the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, “I Have Dreamed” showing he had the vocal ability as a classic singer and superb song interpreter.

Darin then goes deeper into his jazz stylings with “Alright, O.K., You Win.” This optimistic tune admits the spell a woman has over a man and is then coupled with a medley of “By Myself” and “When Your Lover is Gone.” “By Myself” is one of my favorite compositions and Darin sings this song with the heartbreak tone this song deserves. Next, he mixes the jazz scene up by throwing in his interpretation of Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman,” on which he also played the piano. Lastly, he closes out the album with a song he claims helped start this direction of his career, “That’s All.”

Then, against my wishes, the album concludes.

This record had me sitting at the center table of the Copa watching Darin’s electric performance in

American singer and film actor Bobby Darin (1936 - 1973) rehearsing in London. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
American singer and film actor Bobby Darin (1936 – 1973) rehearsing in London. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

person. I literally looked at my needle a few times to see if it could contain the music. Darin’s pure energy resonates with the listener 56 years later, as if the listener was there. Listening to this album is being in the presence of Darin. His vocals, energy, character, and personality shone as bright as it did in 1960.

I’m afraid if I was at the performance, I might have needed shades.

This album proves that a singer never truly passes and that their impact can touch countless generations through black gold (and if you like that digital stuff). The mastering of this album is done to perfection. I am amazed how Darin was able to jump from Cole Porter to Ray Charles, while mixing in his own compositions and arrangements. This vinyl caught a performer in their natural habitat and captured a brilliant moment in both Darin’s catalog and music history.

With this album, I was able to catch a glimpse of Darin’s high-octane performance style that every performer should strive for. This album also shows the true art of performance and it sadly proves it’s demise in our overly commercial, mechanical, music industry.

Which makes me ask the profound question…..why the hell was I born in 1990?

ALBUM REVIEW: Judy Garland In Song

I recently realized that I have a lot of vinyl records. Some would say too many, but I say you never have enough vinyl. So I have decided to finally dust my selves and unearth the many gems I have yet to write about, thus I am starting a new series. Some reviews may be short, some long, but this will be a journey of rediscovering the music I already have on my selves.

In other words I’m broke and cannot buy any new records at the moment.

Presenting Post 1 in “Dusting My Selves:” Artist: Judy Garland Album: Judy Garland in Song

Everybody that knows me will tell you that I absolutely adore Judy Garland and her seemingly endless, multifaceted, unexplainable voice. She is by far one of my favorite artists and she is pretty damn close to being my down right, undisputed favorite.

I own many of Garland’s albums, from her Capital years to compilations to live performances. There isn’t much more I can write about this superstar. Yet, each Garland album spurs new emotions, thoughts, and insights into this magnificent performer. I just cannot keep them to myself.

Judy GarlandLast night I began my venture through Garland’s catalog with a compilation album, Judy Garland In Song. This is an album released of many “staple” songs from Garland’s MGM movie career released by Metro Records. This album was probably an effort to seize on the success of Garland’s performances post MGM.

This album covers everything from “Over The Rainbow” from The
Wizard of Oz
 to “Last Night When We Were Young” from In The Good Old Summertime. Oddly this collection leaves out “The Trolley Song” from Meet Me In St. Louis.

Each tune is a gem on this album with my favorites being “Get Happy” from Summer Stock, “You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun” from Annie Get Your Gun, of which Garland was unable to finish, and “I Don’t Care” again from In The Good Old Summertime. The songs take a journey through Garland’s voice from her adolescent years to early twenties, although they are not in order.

What struck me with this album is the emotional awareness Garland possessed at such an early age. Emotion is raw in Garland’s voice and that was apparent from the very beginning. This album also proved how versatile a performer and actress she was as well. Listening to songs from her movies back to back are nearly like listening to a chameleon sing!

To think that Garland was essentially just getting started when she recorded these songs is remarkable. We still nearly had two more decades of songs, performances, and films to come from this legendary artist. Garland and her voice were in their formative years at the point of these recordings. She still had a lot more in store for the world.

Key Tracks: “Over The Rainbow,” “Get Happy,” “You Made Me Love You”

Deep Cuts: “Better Luck Next Time,” “Last Night When We Were Young,” “Bel Mir Bist Du Schon”

Check out my interview with Judy Garland’s former assistant, Stevie Phillips. 

ALBUM REVIEW: Eartha Kitt, That Bad Eartha

This Saturday the vinyl community celebrated “Record Store Day.” RSD is littered with special edition and rare releases that go for normal price in stores, but can often be resold for 100’s of dollars! These limited editions are often worth it, but often times they are just a way for record companies to get their hands further in vinyl collector’s wallets.

Eartha KittThis year I decided not to participate in RSD. One of the only stores in the area that was participating extensively, Guestroom Records, had long lines throughout the night before they opened. Although I love the excitement this creates for vinyl.

To celebrate the day I decided to visit on of my new favorite record shops now in Oklahoma City, Monkey Feet Music. I could spend hours in this store browsing and talking to the owner, Chris. Every time I go in there I seem to find something. It never fails.

Basically since I wasn’t going for any special releases I though I would just pick up a few old ones.

On this special Record Store Day I found an album truly fascinating from the moment I found it. The album That Bad Eartha, by the incomparable Earth Kitt didn’t disappoint and is just as enchanting at 1st, 2nd, and 3rd listen.

Kitt is easily be considered one of the best character actresses in the history of film and stage. I had always known that she was a singer too, I had just never seen one of her albums to my knowledge before. I am sucker for any singer who encompasses the American Songbook and nobody can sing them as well as these original greats.

Naturally the first songs that struck me  from the track listing were “Let’s Do It,” “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” and “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” Each of these songs she does brilliantly, but they are whole new creatures when Kitt interprets them. She has a unique phrasing, vocal style, and vibrato that breathes new life into these songs, even 60 years later.

Eartha KittThe quintessential song from this album, which later became a Kitt speciality, is the opening track, “I Want to Be Evil.” I was immediately hooked on this song. She tells the story of how she’s always been good, but how now she just wants “to spit tacks,” which is exactly how this song strikes you. She mixes that with a vocal sex appeal (and physical!) that is nearly irresistible. This continues throughout the album.

She also gives the listener a taste of her vast talent and nearly endless image creation through performing songs in French, Spanish, Turkish, and even Swahili. Your imagination runs rampant as you imagine what she is saying if you are not fluent in these language.

The standout tracks for me were “Lilac Wine” and “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” She gives each of these songs a different interpertation then what you would expect from a crooner. They hit you like a force that can have a different sentiment at each listen.

Would it be corny to say that Kitt literally sings like a cat? Cats are odd creatures that I am often scared off. I can’t tell if they are truly loving or me or plotting my death. Then they will tease you with allowing you to pet them before snapping at you and running away.

You never know what they are thinking.

That is exactly how I interpret Kitt’s voice. She can tease and make you think whatever she wants, but she can snap. The listener can never tell when it’s coming. She sings like she is “spitting tacks” for every song strikes you like a pinpoint mixed with the unpredictable bewitchment only created by Eartha Kitt.