I’m sure…

Glad Rag Doll will garner Ms. Krall critical acclaim and more Grammy nominations for her creative exploration of turn-of-the-century (1920’s) ragtime music, but I found GRD …well, pretty much unapproachable.

I’ve mentioned many times how much I enjoy panning for new gold in the depths of the American Songbook — looking for artists and songs that I’ve not heard before. I’m “all in” on the idea of exploration.

However, to me Glad Rag Doll sounds like a Ken Burns PBS documentary soundtrack — an academic exercise — more than a pleasant exploratory listening experience.

As evidenced by the many high-concept album reviews to be found on VocalStandards.com (Sammy Davis, Sinatra, Karrin Allyson…to highlight a few), I’m clearly a big fan of theme LPs.

As such, I held out a great deal of hope for DK’s latest; but sadly I found the album’s monolithic ragtime focus jarring … detached.

Rather than a fun sense of exploration, listening to Glad Rag Doll — 17 tracks that I simply have no connection with — is wearisome. To a ragtime music aficionados GRD may be treasure, but to me it’s more like a homework assignment from music appreciation class.

(Heavy sigh) I’m truly taken aback. [Read more…]

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Picking up the pace…

Right on the heels of Harry Connick Jr.’s success two awesome standards practitioners emerged to shift the “standards revival” into high gear. First up — in 1992 R&B sensation Natalie Cole delivered a stunning tribute album to her father Nat King Cole … truly a tribute LP like none before it.

Unforgettable was 22 tracks of Nat Cole’s biggest hits; rendered wonderfully by Natalie AND … utilizing the digital technology at hand Nat (gone nearly 30 years at this point) and Natalie sang the title track as a duet.

Awards flowed and this stunning album raised the awareness of her father’s music to a whole new generation. Natalie continues to dip back and forth between R&B and standards titles as her career rolls on and her duet performance with Nat is a highlight of her “not to be missed” stage act.

Cool as the other side of the pillow…

As if on cue to counterbalance all the heat coming off Natalie’s Unforgettable LP, Diana Krall — a tall, cool, blonde Canadian jazz sensation — wandered out of the great white north in 1993 bringing a prodigious talent for jazz piano and a distinctive interpretation of the classic standards.

I remember coming across Diana’s debut album — Stepping Out — at a Borders Record store while randomly casting about for something new … I think I stood there with those horrid public headphones on for about an hour listening to that album but it was worth it.

Diana is both talented and prolific — cranking out about a dozen albums and three DVD’s (Live in Paris is the best of the video releases) since her arrival — and it was that volume of super quality material — especially in the all important late 90’s — that took the American Songbook revival over the top from my perspective. [Read more…]

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The seeds of revival…

An interesting thing happened in 1983 … Linda Ronstadt — one of my favorite progressive country singers at the time — surprised everyone when she crossed over and took a flyer on a concept album with Nelson Riddle — What’s New.

Ronstadt was a already a star — a hugely successful pro-country/pop singer at the time. Her willingness to truly collaborate with masterful Nelson Riddle and take his guidance on how to approach these numbers with the style of a “Frail” singing in front of an orchestra rendered a stunningly beautiful and surprisingly successful What’s New album release. [Read more…]

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May sound like a bad law firm…

… but this “gang of five” — Nelson Riddle, Linda Ronstadt, Harry Connick Jr., Natalie Cole and Diana Krall  — were the central characters in revival of the American Songbook that took place back in the 80’s, 90’s and into the early 2000’s … they were the foundational players in the Vocal Standards slow but inexorable return to popularity.

It’s easy, sitting here today, to forget that it was not that long ago that Pop music walked away from the Great American Songbook … turning it’s back on the icons that dominated the music and entertainment industry for more than three decades. [Read more…]

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If I could only pick one…

After spending about three days trying to net out a “top five” album list from the seemingly boundless holiday section of the American Songbook, I had to give it up.

There is a vast amount of material from the Classic Artist and New Guard quarters … even the Fresh Face team has been throwing off some great holiday singles and albums. But that wasn’t the real problem with nailing down a “top five” list.

Listening to so much Christmas and holiday fare over the last month, I’ve come to realize that holiday music listening is a very personal and emotional affair … more so than normal music listening.

What and who I like in my studio during the day while writing fervently is all good and proper; but put a glass of wine in my hand, a fire in the fireplace, some steaks under the broiler and my lovely bride padding around decorating for Christmas and my whole perspective shifts … and with it my holiday listening preferences.

[Read more…]

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