Friday, April 14, 2006

Standard Arrangements

I can't shut up lately. Browsing today I found this exit interview with Bucky. It confirms my suspicions that he's a good guy, and pretty funny, too, and with an exceptionally good attitude about the whole American Idol gig. He's so cool, in fact, that it almost makes me feel bad for being less than kind about him a few times. But. Well. Fuck it! How much fun would that've been?

Looking forward, I really am amped about the Great American Songbook week. As I said before, I'm not enraptured with Rod Stewart or his CDs. Frankly, they piss me off. These songs are standards, yes, but the arrangements and instrumentation can drastically change a song. For evidence of this, look no further than Frank Sinatra's swinging take on "Night and Day" versus his later, torchy version. Rod Stewart has an amazing arsenal at his disposal with the arrangements, the guest artists (I love Arturo Sandoval) and the production value. But there's just no escaping his warbly voice, which just doesn't illuminate these songs at all. (On the bright side for Rod, I doubt anyone will be talking about his horrible plastic surgery as he appears on the show, because all the comments will be focused on his burned-out, fried-up voice.)

Combine his limited vocal ability with the fact that I don't really "feel the love" from him regarding these songs either, and they just don't make for classics. There's a lucrative market for standards, as his success and the success of Michael Buble prove. I'm never convinced that Stewart is singing these songs because he has an affinity or feel for them rather than using them for the cash cow they are. Buble, on the other hand, is completely convincing in his affection for the material. I know plenty of people love Buble, and I have nothing against him. I don't think he sucks or anything. But nor does his voice ever manage to affect me. He's competent, yes. A good singer. I just don't connect with him.

There's still, for me, one Voice that manages to completely enchant me with these songs. If you're not a fan of standards but have even a passing interest, here's the best introductory CD for you:

The Very Best of Frank Sinatra

I don't really know what I could possibly write about Sinatra, or his voice, that hasn't been said a thousand times. But I've come to find out that there are a lot of people out there, especially my age and younger, that just never listened to this kind of music before. All I can say is don't knock it 'til you've tried it. That collection up there features Frank's voice a little later in his life (but still at his zenith) because he had to re-record everything when he started his own Reprise label. You'll find dissent among Sinatra aficionados about whether some of the earlier recordings had more swing and if his voice was better, but this is still a great but manageable place to start to see if you have a spark for this material. And you may very well love it. There's a reason there's still a hunger for these songs and why they persist, and there's a reason why Frank remains the Chairman of the Board.

And, whether you're a fan of standards already or just want to check out a couple of tunes but prefer a more "updated" spin on them, instead of diving into the Rod Stewart pool, or if Michael Buble doesn't do it for you, give this a shot:

Harry Connick, Jr. -- Only You

If you ask me, Harry Connick, Jr. is one of the most consistently underrated, under appreciated artists working today. I don't toss the word around lightly, but there's no denying it, he's brilliant. He's got gifts in every musical aspect: Composing, arranging, playing, singing. He's just brilliant. Sometimes, I do get the feeling that Harry's got so much talent it's almost harmful for him in that he's not always able to harness it and focus it completely, because he's able to think in so many directions at once. He dips into serious jazz quite often, which I think is what keeps him out the mainstream. And, some people knock him for being too Sinatra-like in his singing. That's a quality that comes and goes with him, depending on what material he's performing. It doesn't bother me, even though it is evident on this particular CD. Nevertheless, he's got enough of his own vibe and emotion that he still always comes across as Harry, not as a lounge-act impersonator. And I happen to really like his voice. Unlike Buble's, Harry's gets to me. Plus, these are great, jazzy arrangements on this CD and he sounds wonderful.

(Talk about a guy that could come on and help these kids with some musical advice? Harry would've kicked ass. And his hot wife could've given Kellie a lesson about how to be sexy and southern without making a fucktard out of yourself.)

Also sexy without being stupid, in this same vein of music is Diana Krall.

Love Scenes
When I look in your eyes
Like Connick, she's a double threat because she sings and plays piano, and she's marvelous at both. Her first album (I think it was her first) was a collection of standards, and she dips in and out of that genre as she goes more jazz original sometimes. But Diana's always got a very cool, sulty thing going on and she always goes right for the romantic songs with torchy, but not overblown, arrangements. This is the kind of music you put on when you're in the mood -- and when you want to get someone else in the mood.

Speaking of arrangements, it's been mentioned that the AI vocal coach has said that for the upcoming standards show the songs can't be too heavily tampered with. They're going to have to sound like standards. Sounds to me like they're tampering with Chris here. I had visions of him totally turning out "I'll Be Seeing You." You know, making it some heavy, creepy, psycho version. Glaring at the camera, "I'll be looking at the moon, but I'll be seeing you, bitch!" That kind of thing. But with this news, sounds like he's going to have to do that while a string orchestra backs him! Excellent! Apply that eyeliner judiciously, Chris. And please, keep the wallet chain on display.

Oh. And a note to Ace -- Frank never sang in a falsetto. I don't think Nat King Cole did, either. Good luck, buddy!

I don't know how Taylor will handle this stuff, but I'm interested to see. Kellie? Pfft. Does it even matter? She'll just drape on some dress that shows her cleavage, trot onstage, wink twice, maybe make an asinine joke about how she'd thought Billie Holiday was just Wyatt Earp's sidekick up until this week and then accept the lascivious praise that'll be lavished upon her. Simon will say, "Kellie. That was transcendent." And she'll say, "Huh? But I AM dressed like a girl!"

There's no reason why Katharine, Paris, and our Elliott shouldn't shine in this genre, as long the band doesn't drown them out. Yeah, yeah, Elliott spent more time in the bottom three this week. But it also gave him a lot of exposure, even if he did have to tolerate having Kellie's nasty snotrag tossed at him. (And I'd thought they were jacking around Taylor by making him switch songs. At least he didn't have SNOT flung at him.) Most important though, Elliott lit it up when he got to sing a second time. I don't know if he's familiar with this music at all, but it shouldn't matter. This probably isn't the exact stuff that he'd say is in his wheelhouse, but he can definitely put his stamp and groove on it if he chooses wisely with the song. He won't have to dance or entertain or any of that other shit. He's already proven he's got the pipes for it, and the innate talent for phrasing to make this stuff come alive. And if Rod screws with him, so help me I will hunt that rickety old Brit down and kick his spindly ass. I doubt he will though. Rod'll probably be too busy trying to bang some intelligence into Kellie.


bevjackson said...

ha, I enjoyed this post. I'm of that era of Sinatra and have very similar tastes (except Frankie made a real jerk of himself in front of me in a restaurant and I couldn't even stand to think about him after that). I love Connick and have high regard for Diane Krall...(though I'll take Sarah, Ella, Dinah, and Billie first) and since Mandisa was booted from AI, I'm just not very interested. Hiya, sweetie!

SusanD said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
SusanD said...

Hiya Bev :) Thanks for stopping in. Boy-o, we are like two peas in a pod sometimes, huh? I LOVE Dinah Washington-- she's my all-time favorite female singer. Oh, I'd love to hear the Frank being a jerk story sometime, too. It doesn't matter how much of a jackass he was, though, he still slays me.

Alice Brooks said...

Great take on the standards. And I so appreciate the fact that you always stand up for Elliot - my favorite by far. Keep the great vibe going!

Don Capone said...

It was a good night. Even gross-out Ace was decent. The only bad performances were Kellie, who choked bad, and Elliot who was dull, dull, dull. Last 10 seconds were good, but by then it was too late. Katharine stole the show.

SusanD said...

Hi Alice, thanks for stopping by. Glad you're in on the Elliott appreciation also :)

Don. Your Elliott hate is becoming unmanageable. Funny, but unamanageable.

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