A few years ago I was sitting on a beach in Mexico, just relaxing and enjoying the end of the day. Two friends were in earshot and one was listening to his Walkman, apparently enraptured by the beautiful music emanating from his earphones. The other friend nudged him and asked, "What are listening to?"
"Joanie", was the reply and both fellows closed their eyes and nodded in agreement about how wonderful this Joanie was.
Personally, I was thrilled that Joanie Sommers would elicit such a response but I had been mistaken. They were referring to Joni Mitchell. I still say Joanie Sommers is the better bet, but I did feel pangs of envy that no singer/songwriter had touched my soul the way Ms Mitchell had apparently touched theirs. I like her, or rather respect her talent, but she always seems a layer removed from the audience.
If anyone comes close for me, it's Tom Waits. You may be hung up on his neo-Beat thing (and it was good), but really, he stopped doing that in the 1980s. He's gone from channeling the Dharma Bums to an Edwardian preacher broadcasting from hell. There are still the painfully beautiful songs, the homemade instrumentation and lots of mood swings in between. With every new recording, I find myself overwhelmed, heading to the one preceding it and declaring the older disc the best thing he's ever done. Eventually I come around to the new recording, but the reality is his discs scare me a little. I now know it's better to take them a song a time and really let it all sink in. The mostly broken men portrayed in his songs don't bite and the music is so good that it's worth the small amount of effort you might need to exert to get on board.
This is my long-winded way of saying his latest disc, Alice (Anti Records 86632-2), is a five-martini favorite. The companion album, Blood Money, is going to have to wait a bit. There are several moments on Alice so direct, so right on the money, that I find myself closing my eyes and shaking my head in agreement to no one in particular, much like my pals were doing on that beach in Mexico.
Elaine Stritch and Bea Arthur are both great dames of entertainment known for being out-spoken and somewhat exhausting. You will remember Ms Arthur as the star of Maude and the Golden Girls but her rich career is given a more thorough overview in Bea Arthur on Broadway (DRG Records 12993). It's very entertaining but the patter outweighs the music and despite her "moose in heat" style of singing, she's very musical and you long for more melodies and less chat. Elaine Stritch also lacks any kind of singing chops and yet has been a favorite singer since the first time I heard her in Noel Coward's Sail Away. Her solo album, produced by the legendary Portia Nelson (DRG 91434), is a true desert island disc. Elaine Stritch at Liberty(DRG 12994) is a double album and a very personal look at Broadway's favorite ball-buster. I think both albums are wonderful.
Two of my favorite gal singers have fallen flat
with their latest releases. Keely Smith's Keely Swings Basie-Style(Concord
Tom Waits: Alice
Bea Arthur: On Broadway
Elaine Stritch: At Liberty
Keely Smith: Keely Swings Basie Style
Megan Mullally & Supreme Music Machine: Big
As a Berry
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