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.

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.

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.

Wrapped in Garland

I love Judy Garland.

There is just something about her voice that completely entrances me every time I hear one of her recordings. She is one of the greatest vocalists and entertainers our world will ever see and in my opinion, she is the best.

Most people know Garland from her career defining role in The Wizard of Oz. She filmed this movie for MGM studios when she was a mere 16. This role catapulted her into super stardom and her signature song “Over The Rainbow,” sung by a kid willing to dream, was cemented in the hearts of every American. She would go on to make countless classics for MGM including Meet Me in St. Louis, The Harvey Girls, and Easter Parade.

Some of my Garland records.

Some of my Garland records.

Although that is not where my fascination with this vocal legend started. I am a fan of her later years in show business, mainly from 1951-1969, the year she died. Throughout these years she was less known for the movies she made, but for her live performances. She did make some amazing films during this period like A Star is Born, but they were few and far between compared to her days at MGM.

When I was in elementary school I watched the Judy Garland Christmas Special on TV, but it wasn’t until my middle school years that my mom bought me the CD Judy At The Palace. I was immediately hooked from her rousing renditions of “Rock a Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody” and “Get Happy.” Then there was her encore encore of “Over The Rainbow.” Hook. Line. Sinker. I have collected every Garland vinyl since then.

So I have decided to compile some of my favorite Garland performances and bring them to you here. Some are cliché of most Garland fans, but some are rarities that I hope you will surprisingly enjoy.


“Down With Love”

This is a recent favorite of mine. Her catalog is so large and her recordings seem endless. She did this on her ill-fated variety show. It’s a good “screw you” to all the men that had mistreated her throughout her life, not to mention CBS’ treatment of her during filming.


“When You’re Smiling”

Garland opened her legendary concert at Carnegie Hall with this number in 1961. This live album, Judy At Carnegie Hall, is her most legendary album, which is an ode to the brilliance of her performances. Since there isn’t a video recording of this concert I leave you with this version. She often opened shows with the this joyous number and it shows off her comedic chops.


“By Myself”

Garland’s version of “By Myself” is superb compared to everyone elses’. She feels each note with consistent emotion and the ambition to move forward with life. This is another song she sang from personal experience. Her performance is pure perfection. It is sad that CBS cut this number from one of her shows because they thought it was too dark.


“What Now My Love”

Garland’s vocals nearly blew me out of the window when I first heard her rendition of this classic. She first approaches it with a veil of vulnerability, but ends with a shroud of confidence. The closing note of the song gives me chills.


“As Long as He Needs Me”

This song has been a long time favorite of mine. I have heard it sung by many different ladies and I haven’t found a version I didn’t like yet. There is something different about Garland’s approach though. Her rendition shows a different side of Garland. We’ve seen the bitter and empowered Garland through her song choices. Her raw emotion in this song portrays her desire to be loved and  to not be seen as a commodity. She didn’t want to need someone. She wanted to be needed.


Every time I unearth a new Garland recording, or hell, every time I listen to Garland I am always amazed. There are no words that describe my admiration for this amazing lady and how her vocals penetrate directly to my soul. We all have that one artist and for me it will always be Judy Garland.

These performances are just barely a peek into her extraordinary career. I am so thankful that we have all these performances from her variety show. These performances are some of the last glimpses we have of this legend and sadly they are her last great recorded works.

As I come to a close I would like to remember Judy Garland in this form. I have read books and watched documentaries on Garland’s life and they always focus on her troubles. I think this is unfair. Garland lived a magnificent life doing what she loved to do: entertain. Through her gift she continues to touch thousands of lives and through this gift she paved the way for modern entertainment.

I’m simply wrapped in Garland.

Check out My Other Articles on Garland:

Oscar Got Away

Pristine Till Death

 

Eartha Kitt, That Bad Eartha: A Cat With Tacks

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.

IMG_2227This 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.

IMG_2229The 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.

‘Twas Like a Breath of Spring

FullSizeRender 8My music ADHD has been working overtime lately. I am currently listening to a Judy Garland box set I found a while back at Trolley Stop Record Shop in OKC, but I just finished listening to Courtney Barnett. Those artist aren’t in the least bit comparable.

Garland is a long time musical friend of mine. I often cite her as my ultimate favorite singer and that is mostly true. I found this box set of her recordings she made for Capitol. One never knows what recordings they will hear on these sets! She made so many studio and live recordings of songs. Any vinyl find of hers is a treasure trove full of Garland.

Then I have Courtney Barnett. I recently found the 1st addition of her debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit. The 1st edition vinyl is orange and some came with a slipmat (I was blessed to find one). She had been listed on many “best albums of 2015” lists including Pitchfork’s. Naturally, she struck my interest.

IMG_2141I enjoyed Barnett’s album more than I thought I would considering I usually listen to everything pre 80’s. Sometimes I have to remind myself that there is still good music being released today. Barnett’s voice and style is intriguing. She is completely original, yet I find her to posses a mixture of Joan Jett and Karen O. There will be more to come on this album.

Lastly, between all my other random choices, I have been consistently listening to Jody Miller. As one of my good friends says, “Jody is a songs best friend.” I have been experiencing that over and over again. Her album, There’s a Party Going On, really has me hooked at the moment. This album contains her Billy Sherrill produced hits, “There’s a Party Going On,” “To Know Him is To Love Him,” and her duet with Johnny Paycheck, “Let’s All Go Down to The River.”

Although these are favorites, my ultimate favorite off this album is her rendition of “Delta Dawn.” Did you know she recorded it before Tanya Tucker? Her version is very different, but it would have been a huge hit. As I listen to Miller more I notice how she is the “original original.” She is a legend that goes underappreciated.

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So spring has been good to me so far. I’ve made new friends while continuing to get to know old ones. Who knows who will pop up next?

Did I mention I’m also into Alice Cooper at the moment too?

Until Then We Have Steve and Eydie

Before there was Kim and Kanye or Beyonce and Jay-z, there was Stevie and Eydie.

FullSizeRenderI discovered Eydie Gorme a few years ago when my mom stumbled upon her solo album, Don’t Go to Strangers. I was immediately hooked to Gormé’s vocals. Her vocals go every where, moving from high to low and then side to side. I’m pretty sure they reach uncharted terriotory. She can equally convey humor as easy as she can strike you with a ballad. Gormé is easily one of the greatest vocalist of the 21st century.

Next, I first learned of Steve Lawrence through a few Steve and Eydie albums, until the day I found his 1962 solo album, Winners! I became a fan almost instantly when I heard his renditions of “Who’s Sorry Now?” and “Moon River.” It was a different side of Lawrence that I had not picked up on in his duets with Gormé.

Together they were an anomoly. When listening to Steve and Eydie it is easy to tell that they are the pinnacle of celebrity, musical duos. Gormé and Lawrence remained married until Gormé’s death in 2013. One can sense the love they had for each other when listening to their recordings. The songs they sing don’t even need words. They could simply speak gibberish and still convey the love they had for each other.

FullSizeRender 2This love is evident on a compilation album I found at a thrift store on Sunday. This album, The Longines Symphonette Society Proudly Presents Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé Together, gives the listener the tip of their heart-shaped iceberg. The album begins with the budding love song, “This Could Be The Start of Something” and quickly turns to their humorous sides with “I Remember it Well” (my personnel favorite) and “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo.”

Side B keeps the love alive with their Grammy award-winning song, “We Got Us.” The duo then shows off their acting chops with the semi-breakup, 50’s do wop inspired “You Can’t Be True, Dear.” This showed their talent of delivering a song regardless of content. The album concludes with the Christmas staple “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which is easily one of the best renditions of this song recorded.

Looking through my collection I realized that I have many of Steve and Eydie’s duet albums, but this one gives the best summary of their performances. Hopefully one day we can all experience a love like theirs. Until then, we have their recordings to give us a glimpse of what’s to come.