Sound Advice Reviews
Vocals by Madeleine Peyroux, Cathy Segal-Garcia, and Susan Krebs
Now here's a novel way to reissue and expand the tracks of an album from the past: In its return to the marketplace, distinctive and appealing vocalist Madeleine Peyroux's second project, 2004's Careless Love, the original rock-solid 12 tracks are not supplemented in the way other such revisits have donewith alternate takes or unreleased material from the same session or other unrelated tracks. Instead, the strong (and strong seller) that was the original package is paired with a recently discovered recording of a live concert in Spain consisting of all the same material (minus one: the Hank Williams song "Weary Blues") and three numbers not on the studio set. The 11 repeats are not redundant retreads that just doggedly close-copy the way they had been recorded. While the slinky singer's Careless Love's eclectic material featured extremely tight and disciplined arrangements, some phrases crisply delivered in mathematical succession, with precise, repeating instrumental mini-figures anchoring the insistent accompaniment, the live set finds tempi looser and the singer more reactive and exploratory, moodily acting the lyrics.
The three very welcome, well-handled non-repeat titles are: the 70-year-old pop song "Destination Moon"; the 60-year-old Patsy Cline trademark "Walkin' After Midnight" (which had appeared on her debut album); and the Burton Lane/Frank Loesser collaboration "I Hear Music" from the score of the 1940 movie musical Dancing on a Dime and introduced on records by the singer to whom Madeleine Peyroux has been exhaustively compared, Billie Holiday. Cheer and charm are in in ample supply with this trio of zesty romps joining the Careless Love collection. It all represents the varied Peyroux influences and favesold-timey blues, pop, Western swing, and jazz, plus "J'ai deux amours" as a nod to her teen years growing up in Paris. The mix of lilt, languid, lush, and lively tones and tunes seduces and sizzles.
Very able players provide accompaniment for both programs. The previously unissued live set, with keyboardist Kevin Hayes and bassist Matt Penman joining drummer Scott Amendola who had been around just on "I'll Look Around," thus the only instrumentalist returnee besides the singer who also plays guitar. Two studio orchestrations had Lee Thornburg on trumpet (an instrument M.I.A. in the concert), with Jay Bellerose as the drummer, keyboardist Larry Goldings, bassist David Piltch, and guitarist Dean Parks. Comparing treatments of the 11 reappearing items is illuminating and makes us reconsider the way we consume popular songs that get into our hearts and brains as earworms or little dramas with more emphasis on lyrics' stories. The non-clone interpretations can at times be strikingly dissimilar in feel, the earlier architectures being examples of canny, instantly accessible, commercial concepts that almost command you to tap your foot and groove along. And the more unbridled live tracks feel more authentically like in-the-moment expressions of emotions. Both approaches have their different but definite rewards as two very viable options and it's great to be able to have your musical cake and eat it, too.
In addition to digital format, the deluxe package is available in two formats: CD and vinyl. The three-disc, six-sided vinyl package makes for even further fascinating comparisons in a side-by-side (literally!) manner. Listening to all the tracks in both formats was refreshingly instructive, and I love how it sounds on records, but since I listened on different machinery of unequal sophistication, with differing ability to adjust balance of bass and treble, I can't make a truly scientific contrast report. (Yes, I confess to being a lingering vinyl fan.) Included in the package are striking photos and insightful new liner notes, including quotes showing the singer's 2020 hindsight and memories. What a pleasure to dig into this deluxe double-dip.
If I may start with a memorable personal reminiscence, I'd like to say that when seeking excellence in music performances, it can be a smart bet to trust the taste of musicians one admires. In my case, I was lucky to get to knowand know the strong opinions ofone of my all-time very favorite singers among the huge number I've heard (or, in recent years, reviewed). She was the late Stephanie Haynes, a remarkable vocalist from California who sang with great jazz command and striking emotional authenticity. In a conversation years ago, when I rattled off a list of the singers I liked best (famous and otherwise), she shook her head, finding almost all of them underwhelming at best. When I asked whom she respected and admired, she immediately replied with a name that was unfamiliar to me then, also a jazz-centric person centered in the Los Angeles area: Cathy Segal-Garcia. And how glad I am to have been urged to explore the work of a kindred spirit of a talented artist with many of the same disarming and "real deal" qualities. Her collection of Social Anthems, Volume 1 is moving, elegant and heartfelt, with one striking original about the difficulty of making life choices ("What Are We Gonna Do") and powerful, woke statements about humanity and coping, dating from the 1960s and beyond. In her convincing performances, a laser-beam focus, open heart, and guileless style cut to the core of each song, devoid of any glimmer of artifice.
While there are only six tracks (one a medley of "Get Together" and "Can't Find My Way Home"), all are on the lengthy side, the briefest two clocking in close to five minutes. Inspired by and reflecting on street protests, the unnerving Stephen Stills composition "For What It's Worth" resonates anew, serving still as being witness; the singer and band make it very much their own and in-the-moment cautionary. A compelling blend of wise earth mother and eternal youthful outlook, seemingly not shorn of hope and optimism, the vocalist is magnetic.
Instrumentally on this, her 14th album, Cathy Segal-Garcia is accompanied (an insufficient verb in this case of powerful, seamless teamwork) by a quartet of artful players who shine: Josh Nelson on keyboards, Edwin Livingston on bass, Lorca Hart on drums, and the especially impactful Anthony Wilson on guitar. They create appropriate tension and intriguingly detailed drama.
Tone and attitude get set immediately in each of the hypnotic and creative arrangements, and are generally very well sustained, although a despairing trek of nine minutes through the preachy hit Marvin Gaye sang and co-wrote, "Save the Children," may feel like a long-journeyed guilt trip. There's aural variety there, though, as the vocal is shared with the deftly soulful Mon David. Although their blend is rewarding, the moments with spoken linesespecially when one echoes the otherare less successful. The choice of speaking lyrics is more problematic for me in a collaboration with another man, when Paul Jost gruffly intones all his many assigned lines on the shared "And So It Goes," making for a lugubrious and overly earnest slog through "And So It Goes," Billy Joel's writing at its most sophisticated and poignant. For her part, Ms. Segal-Garcia's graceful and unguarded singing on the track is faultlessindeed luminous and heartbreaking. While some may find the style gambit elevates the material to become intensely "poetic," I'd rather just hear the observations of a vulnerable soul hung on that lovely melody.
And, well, I'm glad to hear this lady sing just about anything. So, I pass on that long-ago recommendation I received to check her out. You can also get a relaxed and hefty sense of the warm personality of this singer/writer/teacher and her respect and admiration for other people in the music world with interviews and chats in a series of archived daily live Facebook interviews she has been doing during the pandemic. And, yes, Cathy Segal-Garcia has begin performing live again, too. Needless to say, I am very much looking forward to the promised Social Anthems, Volume 2.
Playing Daybreak in track order, my attention is grabbed instantly when singer Susan Krebs starts off a capella with the verse of "Can't Get Out of This Mood," an old chestnut with melody by Jimmy McHugh and lyric by Frank Loesser, introduced in the movie musical Seven Days' Leave from 1942. I'm even more pulled into her moods and musings by the time she's into the evocative second selection, the collection's title song, a hit the same year (but its melody was introduced as a theme two decades earlier in the multi-part orchestral "Mississippi Suite"). Her lived-in, husky voice seems to embrace and relish old songs, lingering in their wistfulness and wonder.
Speaking of lingering, she stays in the 1940s for the third track, another movie song: "How Little We Know" (from To Have and Have Not) by Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael. Another Carmichael gem from the 1920s, "Star Dust" (with the belatedly added lyric by Mitchell Parish) ends the short recital of a mere seven selections. The remaining choices represent the second half of the 20th century: a hauntingly mournful but wise "Who Knows Where the Time Goes"; the poetic "Inside a Silent Tear"; and "Listen Here."
Liberties are taken with melodies and structures, with some words stretched to cover more than their original number of syllables, or choosing to clamp down on a sustained consonant ending rather than prolonging the open vowel, notes are bent, and there are a couple of lyric adjustments, too. In Dave Frishberg's "Listen Here," she softens his self-deprecating self-addressed scolding "Listen here, dummy" to become "Listen here, dear soul." And the indefinite article "a" in "Star Dust"'s referenced location of "beside a garden wall" (which some have replaced with the definite article "the") goes one personalized step further to be sung as "beside my garden wall." Perhaps the little change is special to this performer who bills herself as the "Jazz Gardener," also the name of her 1999 release.
The name of the instrumental group, Mixed Remotions, is wordplay referencing the pandemic's necessity of the seven musicians and singer laying down tracks separately from remote locations. Although some sections do feel not just moody but a bit muddy, there is much emotion in the mix from the Mixed Remotions and Susan Krebs, a California-based performer who in the past has acted in theatre and released several recordings featuring jazz favorites, show tunes, and original compositions. In her singing there is involvement and an intensity, with warmth and a patina of melancholy that adds gravitas and grace.