Record Rack: Halie Loren and Will Lee

Of One I Expected to Simply Love

And One I Didn’t Expect to Like So Much

By Brian Arsenault

Halie Loren

Simply Love (Just In Time Records)

On the opening classic tune on Simply Love, “For Sentimental Reasons,” Halie Loren sings the line about “giving you my heart.” It seems to me she always does that for her audience.

An artist giving her heart to her fans can be dangerous, as Judy Garland was to learn. But hey, she’s young and strong and we can use the warmth.

The warmth and the freshness are there no matter the age of the song Halie’s singing. “L-O-V-E” is right in her wheelhouse as is 1931’s “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” sung largely in French where her phrasing is as impeccable as she is en Anglais. Her take on these and other greats from the American Songbook is just right. “On the Sunny Side of the Street” you’ll smile, really, you will. “My Funny Valentine” touches the heart. Halie goes to the very heart of the song about having to look deeper for the good stuff. Like always.

She can’t save “Moon River”, it’s just too sappy, but hey it’s the only real imperfection on the album.

She’s just as good moving up the decades:

You might wonder could anyone else do Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move?” With all due respect to the great Carole, Halie’s is more sensual, dare I say sexier, more evocative. The earth does move.

As it does on “I’ve Got To See You Again,” a tango version which knows what the tango is really about — dangerous attraction.

And somehow Halie makes the Turtles teen pop tune “Happy Together” into a fine little jazz tune. Drummer Brian West really shines here.

Mentioning West’s solid contribution brings me to some thoughts about Halie’s longtime band. They are always fine but sometimes I think Halie Loren could maybe be a bit edgier and working with some other musicians as the core group might help. Having said that, Mark Treder’s piano almost always balances her vocals perfectly, as on “Dream a Little Dream of Me” and “L-O-V-E.” Treder also arranges the strings heard in places on the album. I’m not always a big fan of strings with jazz singers but the cello work by Dale Bradley on three songs is very satisfying.

The PR sheet which came with the album quotes Jazz Times as writing that Halie is “. . . the next big thing among jazz vocalists.” How can an artist based in Eugene, Oregon, not LA or New York, be “the next big thing?” That would be like the most popular writer in the world being based in Bangor, Maine. Oh wait. . .

Will Lee

Love, Gratitude and Other Distractions (Sinning Saint Ltd)

There’s depth to this guy Will Lee. There’s range too. Oh yeah, and a great collection of musicians from his manic musical life. (A bit about that later.)

I don’t want to get away from the music, though, because Love, Gratitude and Other Distractions is a great blending of rock to pop to jazz to a closing with a bass guitar version of Chaplin’s “Smile.” Surprised? It works. It all works.

I mean early on bring in Billy Gibbons from ZZ to sing duo and play lead guitar to Lee’s vocal and bass on the Allen Toussaint nasty dump the girl anthem, “Get Out of My Life Woman.” Oh yeah, Toussaint plays too.

Give us a rocking anti-war song, “Shahara,” that rings true, legit, because this time it’s told from the perspective of the soldier who finally says, screw it, this doesn’t work. Embellish it appropriately with rhythms of the Middle East, toss in some Sting-like changes and call down some angels (one at least,, Tabitha Fair).

Provide a remarkable remake of mid-60s pop hit “1, 2, 3” and sing a charming duet with Akiko Yano. Are you old enough to remember this song? If not or even if you are, this version is better.

Surprise with a neat jazzy tune with just a touch of Todd Rundgren, “Fooled Him,” about love’s ability to make a fool on both sides. Chuck Loeb’s guitar work adds to the jazz feel here and elsewhere.

Play the poetry of Miss Understanding wherein the lady central to the song has for luggage:

“Old issues and a trunk full of pain,

One suitcase loaded with shame.

One carry-on was carrying hurt

The smallest little pocket held hope.

Users and losers vie for dominance.”

Give us a melodic bass lead on the instrumental “Papounet’s Ride” with Narada Michael Walden going nuts on drums. Maybe this is the place for a word about the drumming on this album. It’s insane.

A different drummer on nearly every track — all terrific, all in tune with Lee’s sterling bass playing. Zach Danziger perhaps leads the way with his work on “Shahara” but there’s not a weak percussion moment throughout.

Still, the drumming is no more manic than Lee’s role in the world of American music. He’s the house bass player for David Letterman, has been for three decades at two different networks. (Paul Shaffer is on the album’s first song.)

He also tours with the Beatles tribute band Fab Faux. The album was “Recorded mostly at The Beatles Museum NYC.” Add to that recording credits with a list of luminaries longer than this review and you get the picture.

It’s been 20 years since Lee scraped together enough time to do his own album as the leader of the band. Hope it won’t be another 20 before the next one.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Maine-based Brian Arsenault click HERE.

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