Two Songbirds and the American Songbook
By Brian Arsenault
The so-called American Songbook doesn’t get old. It gets better. Because artists of the day keep reinterpreting and expanding it. The branches of the tree grow gracefully and the songbirds perch higher.
other side of forever (Whispering River)
In On the Road, Sal Paradise (Jack Kerouac in thin disguise) walks outside in the early evening at a small Mexican village and says he feels “the softest air” he ever felt. I think I just heard it.
The song alone is justification for the album with its alternating trumpet and soprano sax, both by Jay Thomas, I think (nice trick). There’s also a little Manhattan Transfer sound on the chorus. But mostly, there is Bessier’s warm, enticing voice.
And daring. She does both “God Bless the Child” and “Prelude to a Kiss.” We’re talking Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington here, folks, so the standard is very high. Add to that the technical difficulties of “Prelude to a Kiss” wherein a singer can just get lost. But not Bessier.
Later, she heats it up on “Too Nice” by producer Barney McClure, then cools down to a “Whisper” on the next track. She swings the great 1930s jazz composition “The Very Thought of You.” Really swings it.
Bessier takes us out of the album with the title song, also written by McClure and you might play it again so you won‘t have to let it go.
How to characterize this remarkable tune? Think of the most beautiful song you have ever heard in a Broadway show; the one that ties it all together, that touches the heart, that causes a pause, a moment of pure silence before the thunderous applause. I wouldn’t want to take away from your first hearing of it by saying more.
After a promising career start, Robin Bessier had to deal with some life stuff that perhaps held back recognition of her great gifts and limited her time for music. But now she’s back and she sings about it on “Right Here, Right Now.” That’s right. Here and now and very, very good.
I Thought About You — A Tribute to Chet Baker (Concord Music Group)
So you are a leading Bossa Nova singer. Can you also do all those jazz classics associated with Chet Baker?
Because on this album, Elias isn’t just paying homage to Baker, she’s covering the Gershwins, Johnny Mercer, Richard Rodgers and Hoagy Carmichael. Among others.
The first five or six songs are like an American classic Master Class.
The title song, “There Will Never Be Another You,” “This Can’t Be Love,” “Embraceable You,” “That Old Feeling” . . . I’m almost out of breath and I’m just typing. (You can still say “typing” can’t you? “I’m word processing” sounds so wrong to my ear.)
Is there a lovelier song than the Gershwin’s “Embraceable You”? If you have any doubts, you won’t be after you hear Elias’ version.
“There Will Never Be Another You” is so damn good because you can hear the bossa nova that is her as well as the jazz. You hear them both and know that they are so closely related, cousins from different but attached hemispheres. And when Randy Brecker’s trumpet comes in . . . just great.
The album never lets up and finishes with two of the album’s strongest:
* A quick-step paced “Just In Time” — usually done by a laid-back Sinatra at his most laid back pace — which features Elias’ husband Marc Johnson’s bass, her piano and her voice. Just the two of them in a kinda delightful musical quickie.
* Hoagy Carmichael’s plaintive, ironic “I Get Along Without You Very Well.” I don’t know that it’s ever been treated better, almost whispered in places. Like the best bossa nova songs and singers, there’s a depth of emotion here unrivaled elsewhere. A heart can break in two.
Throughout the album, I have to keep reminding myself that it’s Elias on piano as well as singing so great. That could be gender bias on my part, hard to shake that off completely in a single lifetime. Or it could be the feeling that you just shouldn’t be so damn good at both.
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Go Softly Into That Dark Earth
Boones the Cat left today. We’ll bury her under a tree in the yard and be a little the less for it. She was my surest barometer of a good album. If she came in to listen, I knew the work was fine. If my reviews aren’t quite so sharp from now on it’s because I’ve lost her. She was 17 so we have no complaint. Not that a complaint would make a damn bit of difference.
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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.