I’m not sure why…

…hearing Nancy LaMott’s version of “Blue Skies” on the radio last weekend hit me so hard, but it did.

I was deep into editing/prepping for transcription the audio files from my recent Luca Ellis interview — for an article planned for late this month — when Nancy’s “Blue Skies”  spun up and wrenched me right out of my editing session.

I remember staring at her name as the growl popup faded away, and then just leaning back and listening.

Being a fan of Nancy’s cabaret styled interpretations for years, I have heard her sing that number many times — it was different this time.

Known to me for years, the tragic end to Nancy’s too short life (marrying the love of her life just hours before losing her bout with cancer — an end only Shakespeare could appreciate) washed over me again and settled on my psyche like a ton of bricks.

I stopped prepping Luca (so to speak) and queued up both of Nancy’s excellent “Best of…” LPs.

That Saturday afternoon was now lost as I steeped in the sweet evocative vocal interpretations of Nancy LaMott … at once celebrating her life and career, (re)mourning her loss, and contemplating the wonderful music that we were never to hear from this lady — the blank pages in the American Songbook Nancy was meant to fill.

Nancy’s role in the standards revival…

Though she was popular on the cabaret club circuit (especially NYC) for several years, NLM had a relatively short recording career — sadly truncated by her death late in 1995.

That said, Nancy’s short recording career was a prolific one — yielding five excellent LPs. Five releases may not sound like that big a deal, but they came in those very tough years when the American Songbook was digging out from the dearth of the 80’s — ahead of the likes of Diana Krall. Producing more than an album per year, in that tenuous time, is remarkable — especially when you look at the one release every three or so years we get from artists these days.

The quality of Nancy’s live recordings, her very devoted fan base and the passionate support of David Friedman — who produced each of Nancy’s LPs — lead to several posthumous album releases. Together with those late LP additions and the two 2011 “Best of…” releases Nancy has an impressive body of work … definitely worth exploring if you haven’t done so yet.

Nancy loved Johnny Mercer…

…or so I surmise. I haven’t done a hard count but Nancy’s career song list is replete with Johnny’s work. In fact, similar to the Verve songbook albums Ella Fitzgerald released (fabulous LPs all), Nancy’s second album — Come Rain or Come Shine — is dedicated to “the songs of Johnny Mercer” … and is a great LP.

Aside from the numbers on the dedicated JM songbook release, “Laura”, “Skylark”, “Jeepers Creepers” … and other examples of Mercer’s best pepper Nancy’s catalog; and by my count, 9 out of the 22 tracks that comprise LaMott’s two “Best of…” CD’s are Johnny Mercer numbers.

The cool aspect of Ms LaMott’s pursuit of JM’s material is that she retools these songs and renders them in her native chanteuse style — often very different from the songs we heard Johnny and others sing.

I consider myself the consummate Johnny Mercer fan (adoring JM reviews here and here) but I think NLM’s reinterpretations of Johnny’s material work just fine … beautiful in fact.

Though Johnny was 66 when he died, I think he too was ripped from us too soon (just wait ’til you’re 55!) … so in a weird way I think LaMott’s “connection” with Mercer is sort of interesting on an astral level as well.

The place to start…

If you’re interested in exploring Ms. LaMott’s sweet cabaret catalog I suggest starting with the compilation CDs — The Best of Nancy LaMott: American Popular Standards, Vol. 1 and The Best of Nancy LaMott: Great American Songbook, Vol. 2. All the numbers on these albums are showcase songs for LaMott’s sweet, woodwind pure vocals … elegantly simple arrangements (often just piano or a trio) accompany Nancy as she beautifully reinterprets 22 classic popular standards (11 on each LP).

My favorites off American Popular Standards, Volume 1 starts with the title track from Nancy’s Mercer LP — “Come Rain or Come Shine”. In this case Nancy  is joined by superb horn accompaniment … the song builds to an awesome end. More Mercer (an assist from Manilow) on “Autum Leaves, When October Goes” … a beautiful number with a nice cello solo (I’m a sucker for the cello).

“Come Rain or Come Shine”* – Nancy LaMott

Then there’s the song that kicked this whole article right into my frontal lobe — Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” …  Johnny Mandel’s “The Shadow of Your Smile” also stands out.

“Blue Skies”* – Nancy LaMott

Great American Songbook, Vol. 2 also harbors greatness. The standouts for me… “You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby” is cabaret gold. Nancy slows down “That Old Black Magic” to a haunting and beautiful torch ballad … so nice.

“That Old Black Magic”* – Nancy LaMott

Maybe the best number of either album is “I Have Dreamed” from Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s The King and I. This is an all time fav for me and Nancy melds perfectly the number’s theatric drama with her intimate club singer style … it’s pure.

“I Have Dreamed”* – Nancy LaMott

Rightly or wrongly, I consider this more of an anecdote or mini profile rather than a review; as such I’m not rating the songs on the LP tracks below … BUT I do want to list them so you can see the songs Nancy has queued up on here two “Best of…” CDs. Check them out.

The Best of Nancy LaMott: American Popular Standards, Vol. 1

1. Moon River Christopher Marlowe 3:07
2. The Best Is Yet To Come Christopher Marlowe 2:53
3. Come Rain Or Come Shine Bruce Samuels 5:31
4. Autumn Leaves, When October Goes Christopher Marlowe 6:05
5. Don’t Get Around Much Anymore Elman Anderson 3:04
6. P.S. I Love You Ken Sebesky 3:54
7. You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me Michael Feinstein 2:59
8. Blue Skies Bruce Samuels 4:16
9. I Got The Sun In The Morning Christopher Marlowe 4:04
10. The Shadow Of Your Smile Christopher Marlowe 3:10
11. Not Exactly Paris Christopher Marlowe 4:05

The Best of Nancy LaMott: Great American Songbook, Vol. 2

1. You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby Glenn Drewes 4:38
2. Talk To Me Baby Christopher Marlowe 4:10
3. Accentuate The Positive Bruce Samuels 3:59
4. On The Atchison, Topeka and The Santa Fe Jay Leonhart 3:06
5. That Old Black Magic Christopher Marlowe 3:48
6. Cheek To Cheek Christopher Marlowe 2:49
7. Hit The Road To Dreamland Christopher Marlowe 5:40
8. The Days Of Wine And Roses, Whistling Away The Dark Christopher Marlowe 6:17
9. Ordinary Miracles Christopher Marlowe 3:42
10. I Have Dreamed Christopher Marlowe 4:13
11. Two For The Road Christopher Marlowe 3:48

[* Please remember that all songs streamed here are for REVIEW PURPOSES ONLY and are NOT intended as a substitute for properly purchased original record company product. Give a listen and then please support the artists via iTunes, Amazon or your favorite music store. Artists/Record Labels — NO DOWNLOADS ARE SUPPORTED on this site; please contact me directly regarding the removal of any potentially infringing material.]