Joyce Breach and William Roy
Love Is the Thing
We saw the recent Michael Jackson TV special
and after enduring all the "excitement" that Jackson and
his friends could offer, we've come to the conclusion he's definitely
the king of something other than popular music. But it's not the
lack of something fresh, new or enthralling that has been bugging
us. It's not the memory of Liz Taylor, watching Jackson and his
pals perform and acting like she'd just discovered butter for the
first time. Or Jackson covering his face as he sang, we suppose
to hide the fact that he'd forgotten the words and was singing to
a prerecorded tape. Or maybe it's a new affectation. Or maybe he
was catching falling things. No, the thing that we can't get out
of our mind is that it reportedly cost 30 million dollars to record
his latest album. We'll go out on a limb here and declare this insane.
What could possibly be worth 30 million dollars?
Our guess is that no one spent 30 million
dollars on the sessions that produced Love Is the Thing.
Singer Joyce Breach and pianist William Roy and a couple of recording
engineers are worth it, but we doubt their compensation was in the
millions. And yet by almost any standard, Love Is the Thing
is the better value, except maybe in art direction.
The voice of Joyce Breach is one of the most
arresting things we've experienced in a long time. She's effortless
without being lazy and the sound is beautiful without being syrupy.
When she sings, it's hard not to take notice, even though her delivery
is somewhat cool. Joyce Breach defines intimate. But the zinger
is when she stops singing and the note still lingers gently in the
air. It just makes us melt.
William Roy is a wonderful pianist and supportive
throughout. Singer/pianist duet albums like this can be deadly.
One starts to crave at least a pair of maracas to break things up.
Love Is the Thing avoids tedium but we have come to start it
on different track numbers to make sure we're receiving the full
impact. If we have one suggestion, it would be to add a few more
instruments here and there. We swear at a few points it seems as
if there was an acoustic bass on a few numbers, but there is no
credit so we suspect this is part of Roy's cleverness. Audrey Morris
is another excellent singer in the classic style. She added John
Frigo on violin for a few tracks on her excellent mostly singer/pianist
Round About album and it makes all the difference in the
world, both for the variety and the atypical violin as a solo instrument.
These are simple suggestions to top a very
nice cake. Breach and Roy perform 18 swell tunes and not a tired,
overdone standard is found in the bunch. Many of the songs are new
to our ears and the classics that we did know are hardly overdone.
Breach helps one to realize how truly great a song can be. Why
Did I Choose You? from the movie The Yearling, comes
to mind immediately. Anyone Can Whistle is a hard number
to screw up but the intimate lyrics and catchy melody are perfect
Of course few reviews here on MrLucky can
completely escape our claws. Like many discs on the Audiophile label,
the cover is just plain ugly. It's a watercolor that seems to be
a test to see if one can paint using toes rather than fingers. And
the art direction, although credited, is absent. There is no understanding
of space, typesetting, color and the like. It doesn't affect the
music but we don't want you to think twice when you rush out to
buy this disc. The rewards are inside.
Too often we complain about singers with
irritating affectations. Streisand's confusion that she is a Gospel
singer, Maria Muldaur's insistence that she's a rocker and Mariah
Carey's flights of fancy before establishing a melody all drive
us nuts and make us want to scream out to these ladies, "Shut
up and sing!" Joyce Breach does just that, and then some.
Columbia CK 86203
A Nancy Wilson Christmas
|Two New Titles
for the Holidays
Before accepting our advice on Christmas music,
please bear in mind that it's a very rare day when we get excited
about a new album of holiday treasures. Talented performers turn
to mush and the limited number of songs to sing starts to drive
us bonkers. We end up looking for more obscure tunes and kicky new
arrangements of old chestnuts to keep us interested.
In the late 1960s, Barbra Streisand recorded a
great album of mostly straightforward, gimmick-free Christmas music.
She was singing consistently well in those days and A Christmas
Album has been the album to beat artistically (and we assume
commercially) in the Christmas music sweeps. Unfortunately, her
new collection, Christmas Memories, doesn't come close to
her previous attempts at holiday cheer.
Barbra Streisand is now just plain bland. From
her neutral arrangements to her neutral make up to her neutral Donna
Karan gown, Babs is not only "like buttah", she's as bland
as "buttah". Her blandness must be the result of a lifetime
of being the odd man out, finally finding her place in the sun with
James Brolin, but visually and artistically the result is not very
satisfying. One wants to paint her lips with some Chanel red, pinch
her cheeks for some color and plop a big floppy bow on her head
to give her some life. One also wants her to stop over-examining
every word and note and just sing.
Streisand can not sing with the same reckless abandon
that made her so exciting in the early years of her career. This
is a very forgivable sin. The problem is that she hasn't learned
how to sing within the limits of her mature voice. When she sings
a good song in a key that she can handle, she's actually better
than she ever was. On Christmas Memories, we'd have to say
her recording of Ave Maria, Sondheim's I Remember
and a contemporary carol, Christmas Lullaby are all almost
worth the price of the entire CD. She can be that good. The rest
of the album however, is so bland or bad that you question whether
you really enjoyed the good cuts as much as you think you did.
Barbra Streisand is many things but she is not
an improviser. When she attempts a Gospel or Jazz voice, she falls
on her face, and in exactly the same way every time. She bends or
changes the notes with no variation and it wasn't very good 10 years
ago when she started doing this. It's even worse today.
Other than the few great tracks, one song sounds
like the next and despite playing this CD quite a few times in the
hope that it might grow on us, we find hard to tell the songs apart.
When Capitol Records still believed in music, they
were reissuing lots of great chestnuts from their vaults and among
the cleverest of their compilations were the Christmas collections.
Nancy Wilson was a star player and her recording, All That I
Want for Christmas was sexy and new and it seemed a shame not
to have an entire album by Wilson. Now, not a few years later, we
have it. Nancy Wilson still has a great, distinctive voice but she
suffers from being somewhat over stylized and never quite seems
to be able to merge her Jazz aspirations and Adult Contemporary
aesthetic. So it's a happy surprise that she pulls so many rabbits
out of her hat on her new Christmas CD.
While nice, much of the album is pretty regular.
A Bossa Nova version of White Christmas, a jazzy What
Are You Doing New Year's Eve (that beats the pants of the Streisand
version on her new disc) and Claudio Roditi's peppy trumpet solo
on O Christmas Tree are all nice. It's the surprising gems
like the neglected Sweet Little Jesus Boy, a moving All
Through the Night and a slightly over-the-top but completely
gorgeous rendition of O Holy Night that really make this
one a winner. O Holy Night is one of those revelatory performances
that makes you wonder how great Ms Wilson could be if she were challenged
and given the chance.
There are no wrong turns on A Nancy Wilson Christmas,
just different degrees of success. We admit to having a prejudice
about the limits of Nancy Wilson's talents, as much as we've enjoyed
her over the years, but now we're wondering if she deserves better
than the neat little box we'd put her in.