By Roger Crane, the Song Scout
Listening for Your Song is Maud Hixson’s loving tribute to Maud Hart Lovelace (1892-1980) and her Betsy-Tacy books. The fictional Betsy Ray is based on the author and Tacy is her best friend and neighbor. Lovelace was born in Mankato, Minnesota and her stories take place in the fictional hamlet of Deep Valley, which stands in for her hometown. Hixson’s mother grew up reading these stories and named her daughter after the writer. More than 200 songs are referred to in Lovelace’s books, some of which Betsy and Tacy sang, but also songs that simply provided the musical soundtrack of their childhood.
Maud Hixson will most likely be a new name to you but, hopefully, not for long. She has a natural, relaxed voice and was born to sing. Her warm timbre and uncomplicated phrasing are notable for their ease and expressiveness. You understand every word and, given her twenty selections, the lyrics deserve to be heard. Listening for Your Song can be considered a chronicle of the childhood and adolescence of Betsy and Tacy, making this a song cycle that addresses growing up in the early 20th century.
The CD begins with Maud’s spoken overview and proceeds to Franz Lehar’s 1907 “The Merry Widow Waltz,” which the fictional Betsy first hears played at Tib’s house in Milwaukee. This beloved old chestnut is followed by Rossini’s “The Cat Duet” a song that Betsy and Tacy clown their way through at many a school recital. Hixson’s friend and fellow Minnesotan vocalist Maria Jette provides some delightful soprano “cat sounds” (no lyrics, just “meows”) on this piece. Singer-composer Joe Howard is best known for “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now” and “Hello, Ma Baby,” but the aching longing of “I’m Lonesome for You” is memorable and, early in the previous century, made many girls’ hearts flutter. Hixson included another Howard song, the 1909 “Tonight Will Never Come Again,” that was preferred by Betsy and Tacy’s fellow high school graduates. The song is a summation of their childhoods and, perhaps the era and childhood of every listener. It is a personal favorite that Hixson sings with Shaker-like simplicity. Betsy hears “It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary” everywhere in Europe as World War I approaches and Tib dances the fox trot to a record of “By the Beautiful Sea” as the now older Betsy and Tacy plot to find a husband. Amongst many other selections Hixson includes Irving Berlin’s first hit. “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” the cute “In My Merry Oldsmobile” and Jerome Kern’s unjustly overlooked bouncy “You’re Here and I’m Here.”
My focus has been on the charming songs and Hixson’s caressing voice. That is as it should be, but mention must be given to Rick Carlson and his unobtrusive nuanced piano accompaniment. Theirs is truly a partnership. The well-written and informative CD liner notes (from which I’ve freely cribbed) are by Hixson.
Hixson’s easy, often intimate way with these often little-known gems is perfection. So, turn off your TVs, put away all those electronic “devices,” sink into an easy chair and let these musical stories wash over you. Imagine horses and carriages, ladies with trailing skirts and ruffled parasols, gentle songs and more innocent times. If there is justice in this melody-hostile world Maud Hixson will have many CDs for us to enjoy. I’m already looking forward to her next one.
Twenty-year-old single-malt Scotch, Debra Winger’s grin, farm-houses by the sea and now Maud Hixson’s lovely voice, sometimes life is good. Like only the very best, she reminds me once again why music is worth living for. Visit her on the web, http://www.MaudHixson.com. And if listening to these songs inspires you to explore Maud Hart Lovelace and her stories, do some Googling, such as http://www.Betsy-TacySociety.org.