…Is truly an aptly named album.

‘Round Midnight is both the best time to listen to Karrin’s latest album — a collection of  jazz styled torch songs — and also the place she transports you to … the atmospheric that envelops you in the listening.

Think … late night — early morning really — in a darkened, intimate “joint” of a jazz club.

Two or three shadowy patrons nursing drinks around pools of light from table lamps … islands in a black sea washing up to the small stage. A lonely blue spot casting sharp shadows on a trio … or maybe just a woman at the piano playing tortuous ballads.

Mournful and sweet, soul wrenching stuff that has you wondering how someone can sing so beautifully about such heartache.

OK, enough with the “dark and stormy night” crap…

I think you get the picture. This is a concept album in the Sinatra tradition, with the stated goal of delivering you to that “wee small hours” melancholic milieu, and Karrin pulls it off quite well … maybe even too well, but we’ll touch on that later.

Karrin popped into view for me a few months back during one of those ambient radio listening afternoons. VocalStandards.com accounting or some other sort of mindless work at hand … the radio washing over me with a constant flow of standards when all of a sudden a wistful voice I’ve not heard before knocks me out of my rote labor malaise.

It was Allyson singing Johnny Mandel’s “Shadow of Your Smile” with a wildly cool alto flute obbligato … I was hooked and had to find more.

‘Round Midnight is indeed more…

I love good theme albums … especially those that cut a different path through the material and actually go deeper than just gathering a passel of like songs. When I look back I notice than many of my reviews seem to gravitate to concept work … Sammy Davis, Steve Tyrell, Mr. Sinatra and maybe most aligned to my interest in KA’s ‘Round Midnight LP … Julie London.

The torch song fest that Allyson assembles on this well produced Concord Records LP certainly blazes a fresh trail through the saloon ballad genre.

‘Round Midnight is comprised of both traditional numbers — native to the love-lost ballads wing of the American Songbook — and nontraditional fare.

A couple of numbers from a more upbeat neighborhood are successfully re-visioned here. Down tempo arrangements and laconic vocals are interleaved with sinuous sax, guitar and even harmonica soli.

Karrin’s smoke edged jazz vocal style dances in and around the solos … backed by lean but well balanced rhythm charts. Allyson’s style approaches the blues but backs away at the last minute and remains in a jazz tinged and sultry ballad standards motif.

Though she claims Carmen McRae as her hero in the liner notes, I hear more tonal shades of Rosemary Clooney on some numbers and echoes of Julie London on others. All to great effect … there’s no sense of mimicry. Karrin’s vocal style is distinctive — a jazz original.

I must be a traditionalist…

All the songs on this album are well done (full track list and ratings below) but my favorite songs off ‘Round Midnight are standards classics.

I’ve already mentioned being drawn to “Shadow of Your Smile” … Allyson’s excellent song selection continues with great renditions of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady”, the title track “‘Round Midnight”, Stephen Sondheim’s “Send In The Clowns” (Sinatra’s signature “break-up” number), and Mel Tormé’s “Born To Be Blue”.

KA arranged the Tormé number and six other songs on the album. Two other favorites from the Allyson arrangement array are the classic Gordon Jenkins number “Goodbye” … wonderfully balanced instrumental backing with an awesome guitar bridge from Rod Fleeman, and “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” is pleasantly highlighted by Bob Sheppard’s sax.

Melancholy-O-Plenty…

I love Paul Simon, but his song — “April Come She Will” — doesn’t work for me on this concept album. A very nice version but to my ear, “April…” is stuck in Simon’s native pop/folk realm and doesn’t seem to make the traverse to an intimate club torch ballad. Probably just me.

Otherwise I really enjoy all the songs on this album. Taken as individual numbers these are beautifully rendered and emotive, heartfelt ballads. Weaving these numbers into a playlist so that you occasion them every so often makes them special — dark, ruby colored torch song gems.

But taken back-to-back, in the aggregate this is a lot of down tempo material (approaching a dirge at times) … playing the album straight through more than once or twice wears down my psyche. It’s really not fair for me to hammer Karrin for this — ‘Round Midnight is a concept album after all — with mournful ballads being the target of that theme.

As such, I’m not wielding a critical hammer here — just calling out how I like to listen to Karrin’s excellent ‘Round Midnight material … and that is woven into a balanced playlist so that these wonderfully interpreted songs stand apart when encountered.

If you’re a torch song aficionado like me … or you just want to be transported to that dark jazz club late in the evening for a drink and to listen to some great music that will make you remember … and help you forget, then this is an LP you should pick up.

‘Round Midnight – Karrin Allyson Track Listing

(VS_Guy ratings: “+++” pluses are good; “~” for meh to middling;  “- – -” minuses are not good)
* Arranged by Karrin Allyson

1. Turn Out The Stars* 4:05 (++) Nice down-tempo rendition … perfect “set the tone” piece
2. April Come She Will* 3:14 (~) A Paul Simon number that just seems a bit out of place to me
3. Goodbye* 4:28 (+++)
4. I’m Always Chasing Rainbows* 4:40 (++) One of my favorite numbers (especially Sammy Davis’ version)
5. Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most* 6:38 (++)
6. Smile* 4:54 (++) Beautiful piano intro and rhythm charts; harmonica transports to French nightclub
7. Sophisticated Lady 4:38 (+++) a slow breeze … Julie London-esk
8. There’s No Such Thing As Love 3:04 (+++) just KA and her piano perform Anthony Newley’s love lost ballad
9. The Shadow Of Your Smile 4:25 (++++) my favorite number off the LP … little shades of Rosie Clooney
10. Send In The Clowns 4:48 (+++) Sinatra’s “ultimate break-up” signature song
11. ‘Round Midnight 5:51 (+++) just Ed Howard’s weeping bass and KA’s vocals … wild
BONUS TRACK:
12. Born To Be Blue* 5:19 (++++) appropriately named Mel Tormé number is superbly arranged and sung by KA

 

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