Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz
Genevieve & Ferdinand (Sunnyside Communications)
By Brian Arsenault
To get so much music out of one voice and one guitar is to reach back to Kate McGarry’s Irish roots in Boston and across the Sea, to a time before electronics and amplification.
Wait, that sounds like a description of what’s generally called folk music and the first two songs — Paul Simon’s remarkable “American Tune” and McGarry’s own “Ten Little Indians“– indeed seem like the opening of a folk album. But McGarry’s a much admired jazz singer, n’est pas?
Then again, you know what Louis Armstrong said: “All music is folk music, I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.”
On this album, Genevieve & Ferdinand, McGarry does indeed sing a song (eleven in fact) accompanied by husband Keith Ganz’ acoustic guitar work and they alone comprise a fine band.
Perhaps nowhere on the album is this true more than on their clearly personal version of Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern’s “Can’t Help Loving that Man of Mine.” They play off each other so nicely. Her deeply felt but offhand slightly humorous vocal; his jazz “master class” guitar work.
Both have this marvelously expressive economy in their music, not one extraneous flourish, straight to the heart of the matter. Except for “American Tune,” recorded in a single take, the album is a concert recording without a blemish. At least that I could hear.
Wait, didn’t I say this opened like a folk album. Then a jazz classic. What’s up?
What’s up is music without stylistic borders, opening and closing with true “American tunes,” journeying to Brazil, dipping into the American songbook with most respectful treatment but a new twist or two.
Particularly intriguing is their take on Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” This is a more dramatic, nearly desperate version than I suspect you’ve often or ever heard. Achingly alluring, it raises into stark view the avoidance of troubles with dance and music.
Did Berlin perhaps intend this? “Soon we’ll be without the moon.”
The song touches on an American sadness, like dear lovable Emily who dies in childbirth in the great American play Our Town and says from the grave about the people she’s left in life: “From morning till night, that’s all they are – troubled.” The same “troubles” are just below the surface in “Smile,” Charlie Chaplin’s touching encouragement to keep going, hard as life can be. Courage always required. Don’t let them see your pain.
While I wonder why so many of today’s singers are drawn to the song, somehow I smile through it. That’s the point, isn’t it?
On the Ganz penned “Mr. Long Gones,” it’s great to hear him play alone for a while. McGarry says listening to him here is like a walk in the woods. Yeah, I follow that as I look up the snow covered grove rising behind my house.
She comes in along the way to lay a wordless vocal accompaniment over his pristine playing that’s perfect. Melodic like the best and most melodic of CS&N, but that’s the same thing isn’t it?
The album closes with Paul Curreri’s arresting song/poem “Beneath a Crozet Trestle Bridge” with its reference to a “busted looking-glass.” James Joyce said a maid’s cracked mirror was a symbol for Irish art and I think this is where we came in.
Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz are currently touring in support of the album’s release.
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