Stages (White Moon Productions)
By Brian Arsenault
It’s 2 a.m. when I put on Halie Loren’s reissue Stages, so I keep the volume low as to not bother Kath. Doesn’t matter. Loren’s voice comes through soft but contralto clear as always; impeccable phrasing, melodious poetry emerging from the little player on the cabinet.
The cat Sage comes in after the piano introduction to the first song, “Danger In Loving You,” and sits on the carpet to listen as soon as Halie’s voice comes up. She doesn’t often do that. As soon as the song ends, Sage heads for her food dish but she comes back for “Sunny Afternoon,” the second song.
Halie Loren has that effect on audiences, it seems of all creatures, on this album recorded at two separate concerts a couple years ago. “Danger In Loving You” is sung regretful while “Sunny Afternoon” is downright sassy. One thinks that Ray Davies would be pleased with her sense of the vagaries of life and the honky tonk piano.
But I’m trying to be very careful about the use of words like sassy and sultry and sexy which are of course true about her singing but tend to obscure artistry with connotations of femme fatale. There’s a kind of sexism about dropping those words on a female singer, a “nice ass” quality that diminishes while delighting in a woman.
Halie Loren’s singing stands in its own right with a range of human emotion, the aforementioned remarkable phrasing, intelligent story telling, laughter and tears intermingling with accomplished technique.
She can go back to classics like the Gershwins’ “Summertime” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Nearness of You” as if they were written for her and not decades before she was born. She shows that “Summertime” doesn’t need to be sung with a “do I shriek here” component. Not that she doesn’t hit it hard, she just knows where it’s soft.
Her version of “Cry Me A River” brings to mind Julie London’s biggest hit but with more edge. Anger and angst. The audience hoots its approval at the end. She explores the musicality of Latin language, Portuguese specifically, in “The Girl from Ipanema” and makes it fresh again. Bossa Nova steps may be resurrected.
In the middle of the album there’s a three song stretch that encompasses “Free to be Loved by Me” that she penned, about the heartbreak of love. Some of the notes will do that if the lyrics don’t. It touches at a deep level. It’s followed quickly by Billy Arnold’s teasing “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” to quickly lift the mood. And then follows the moody “Love Me Like a River Does.” They call that range.
A favorite moment comes when she sings without accompaniment on “High Heel Blues,” laughing through it with the audience about high heel shoes that “go with everything in your closet.” It brings down the house.
Her aptly titled “They Oughta Write a Song” (from the album of the same name) introduced a lot of us to Halie. It’s an ironic take on love and life and belonged on this “live” album. Actually, I prefer “concert album.” What singers and musicians do in studios is live too, isn’t it, even when overproduced.
But let’s close with a consideration of recorded in the club albums. Ever hear one where you wince once in a while over a false note, mistimed solo, or too quick pacing? Not here. Her sidemen led by pianist Matt Treder are perfect support and I guess you know by now what I think of Loren‘s singing.
To see a terrific singer “live,” as they say, is a great but ethereal experience; quickly gone, vanished from your eyes and ears, just a memory. Fortunately for your ears and soul, this one is here whenever you want to listen.
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Brian Arsenault’s November and Other Tales is a collection of short stories exploring the way cold comes by degrees in winter and in the human heart. To check it out, click HERE.