Archive | September, 2010

EP Review: Someday – Maini Sorri

30 Sep

Maini Sorri’s biographical video for her participation in I’m a Hollywood Star features clips from several songs featured on Someday

Someday: deceptively simple lyrics combine with melancholic undertones to generate an ABBA-esque frisson

Not everyone can take a quirky little ditty and make it credible. It takes sincerity, a deal of musical sensibility and a belief in the ultimate message of a song that is probably greater than the sum of its parts. Maini Sorri seems to have the ability in spades. How about this for a couplet?

“Truth is you were selfish and a phoney.

I shouldn’t have trusted you and your baloney.”

It’s one of my favourite snippets from her new EP Someday, a small collection of five songs that frequently reveal a melancholy undercurrent beneath their whimsical lyrics and well-crafted melodies. Does that sound reminiscent of a certain other Scandinavian outfit? I’m not suggesting that there are huge similarities between Sorri’s work and the nuances of Benny and Bjorn’s finest numbers. But in the deceptive simplicity of lyrics that can sound banal, even childlike, at the first hearing before they work their way under your skin, and the layered arrangements, guitar-driven and piano-based, with their minor accents, it’s impossible not to detect a hint of ABBA’s mastery of the accessible pop tune with the dark back story.  And it’s no surprise that she cites Agnetha Faltskog as one of her main singing influences.

Sorri is a Finn who lives mainly in Sweden and is gifted with a pure, crystalline voice that easily covers the ground between pop and the more mainstream reaches of modern folk. Her accent – more shades of that ABBA-like appeal – gives these songs an air of innocence, a lack of guile, that surely belies her all-round musical strengths. She knows exactly what she’s doing and the sound she wants to achieve, and the result is a modest little box of jewels, from the catchy, twinkling intro of the title track (don’t be fooled, it soon gets elemental and philosophical, and has its eye on the great hereafter) to the gently contemptuous “I Shouldn’t Have Trusted You” (source of the baloney reference) and the sadly defiant “I Am Leaving”, which is also offered in Finnish as “Lahden Yksin”.

My first thought on playing “Someday” was that it has a certain Eurovision quality – in a good way. I don’t know if Sorri has tried her luck yet in the Finnish or Swedish selection processes for the contest, but reading her thoughtful and intelligent blog posts on the subject, I wouldn’t be surprised if she has ambitions in that direction. With a growing following – not just in Europe but also in the US and Canada – this could be a prime time for her to make that particular move.

News Roundup: Caroline O’Connor, Patti LuPone, Liza Minnelli, Sandie Shaw, Barbara Dickson, Mari Wilson, Barb Jungr, Girl Talk and Juliette Greco

30 Sep

Caroline O’Connor: triple threat gives it large in the West End

Caroline O’Connor seems to have the West End in the palm of her hand if reviews of The Showgirl Within are anything to go by…

Liza Minnelli talks about choosing the songs for new album Confessions

The latest work from Broadway royalty is on its way to me in the shape of Patti LuPone’s autobiography and Liza Minnelli’s eagerly awaited studio album Confessions. Reviews will follow in due course but my appetite has already been whetted by Michael Miyazaki’s tantalising reports on Ms LuPone’s tell-it-exactly-as-it-was writing style and Minnelli’s indestructible gifts as an interpreter of lyrics…

Listen to Sandie Shaw’s live performance of Made in Dagenham

Sandie Shaw has been popping up all over the place ahead of the release of the much-vaunted British film Made in Dagenham, a fictionalised feel-good account of the impact of Ford’s female workers on the equal pay movement in the 1960s. Shaw, of course, is a Dagenham girl who – albeit for a few weeks, before her stratospheric rise to pop stardom – actually worked in the factory. Who better to sing the title track? And what a joy to hear that unique voice, cool and stylish, after too many years’ absence. A clutch of live performances seems to have rekindled her appetite for singing but she told BBC Radio 2’s Steve Wright that she needs loads of encouragement to get back into the studio. If someone wants to start a petition, I’ll certainly sign it…

Barbara Dickson: touring early in 2010

Happy Birthdays this week to Barbara Dickson, who has a major UK tour lined up for early 2011, coinciding with the release of a new album (recording has been going well according to her tweets) and publication of the paperback edition of her autobiography A Shirtbox Full of Songs. I recently interviewed her about her book, and you’ll be able to read all about it soon…

Curiosity value: Forget the sound quality and see how Mari Wilson styles Lili Marlene

and to Mari Wilson, also with a new album release imminent, an eagerly awaited one-woman musical about to test the London water and the revival of the fizzing, wry and brilliantly acerbic cabaret trio Girl Talk scheduled for 2011… Girl Talk will reunite Mari and Barb Jungr, and they’ll be joined by a soon to be announced replacement for Claire Martin…

Autotune be damned: why Barb Jungr is the real deal

It’s X Factor season again, apparently. The Art of the Torch Singer would happily let that pass without any comment whatsoever, but for the great autotune debate. Barb Jungr recently raised the issue on her Passport From Pimlico blog and asks why nobody is making the anti-autotune argument. It seems to me that she’s made it eloquently herself in a couple of heartfelt sentences. And here’s an interesting new angle on her hit album The Men I Love

Juliette Greco: chanteuse sans pareil

Finally, existentialist icon Juliette Greco is coming to the Royal Festival Hall on 21st November for a concert that forms part of the London Jazz Festival. It’s 10 years since I saw this legend of chanson at the Barbican on a highly memorable evening. My tickets are booked and you’ll be able to read the definitive review right here!

CD Review: Dolores Scozzesi – A Special Taste

17 Sep

The blues are just torch-songs: Dolores Scozzesi in performance

Dolores Scozzesi: there's nothing like discovering a new voice

There is one good thing about returning from holiday: a healthy pile of CDs for review has accumulated during the summer, promising plenty of interest to lighten the darkening autumn evenings. An even better thing is when you pick one, randomly, from the pile, put it on and out of nowhere, a new voice stops you in your tracks.

After all these years of listening, and not to sound too blasé about it, the “Wow” factor needs to be pretty strong to have that kind of effect. And it really has to be something different. So thank you, Dolores Scozzesi, for working a little magic as the last dregs of summer evaporate.

A Special Taste appears to be New York-born Scozzesi’s first album – and it’s long overdue, given her credentials: Lee Strasberg Institute alumna, one-time voice student of Phil Moore, improv specialist who has performed alongside Robin Williams and Jay Leno, former ex-pat resident of Lyon who has toured Europe with her own jazz troupe, and singular cabaret performer who has ripped up Sondheim and Sting to great acclaim on the West Coast.

It’s the voice that grabs you to begin with. A rich contralto with edge, snapping from molten serenity to a predatory growl in a single phrase, and a timbre that makes you want to place your hands on the speakers just so you can capture something of its individuality. She switches easily between the ominous (“Stay Out of the Moonlight” is a glorious don’t-do-as-I-did word to the wise) and the edgy. “Jazz is a Special Taste” is a stop/start exploration of the allure of the genre to which Scozzesi has loosely hitched her star.

I say ‘loosely’ only because throughout the album, she seems to be daring the listener to put her in a specific box. The phrasing sounds so spontaneous that I doubt any two live performances of a song are ever exactly the same, in the great tradition of artists like Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan. And as with those greats, the story telling is commanding. You have no choice but to listen. The arrangements by Eli Brueggemann and Gary Fukishima give her the ideal springboard to create these vivid word pictures.

Then there is the choice of songs. Standards from Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh (it’s a long time since I heard anyone treat “You Fascinate Me So” with such dry wit) and Fred Ahler and Joe Young (“I’m Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”) have strange but fascinating bedfellows in a pair of Bob Dylan numbers, an astringent take on “One More Cup of Coffee” and a moving, bossa nova treatment of “Just Like a Woman”.

I don’t know what the Dylan purists will have to say about that, but as a late comer to the Dylan lyrics appreciation society myself (I’m no lover of his voice, and that’s been something of a barrier to enjoying his work), I’m fascinated by the endless reinvention that he attracts these day, particularly from female vocalists. Long may it continue.

Scozzesi’s liner notes shed significant light on the final number on the disk, an acoustic treatment of “Autumn Leaves”, melding Johnny Mercer’s English lyrics with the original French words of Jacques Prevert and culminating in a self-penned vocalese tribute to her late husband, dark, raw and touching. This is an album to be enjoyed in discerning company, with firelight and good wine.

CD Review: Ellen Woloshin – Water Into Wine

17 Sep

Ellen Woloshin sings “Joanna”, a song from new album Water Into Wine

"Water Into Wine": sophisticated, literate and absorbing

“Where does all the time go?” asks Ellen Woloshin on the fifth track of her new album, Water into Wine. It’s a good question, coming half way through a collection of largely self-penned songs that have already taken us through several shades of loss and the cyclical nature of relationships.

By this stage, what starts out like a break-up record, with a touch of Carole King-style self-affirmation (“Making My Way Back (To Free)”), has marked itself out as a sophisticated piece of work, defined by literate lyrics, absorbing key changes and modulations, and underpinned by a shifting, restless quality as the core of each song crystalises before Woloshin moves on to another point of view.

She has a lot to say about life experience and – the sign of an assured and skilful songwriter – she says it with clarity and economy.  Music Connection Magazine described her approach as “decidedly female-friendly”, an epithet that strikes me as unnecessarily limiting for such universal lyrics; sure, one or two numbers – “Just Come Home” and “The Words” – might be tagged ‘women’s songs’ but nobody should be put off by such rigorous demarcation.

New Yorker Woloshin is the daughter of celebrated jingle writer Sid, and made her own early way spinning jingles for some well-known American brands. For some time, she’s written successfully for other people, including Dionne Warwick, Ben Vereen and LaToya Jackson. It’s an impressive career path that must have been invaluable in honing her gift for blending instant accessibility with personal reference. Woloshin’s pure alto voice has emerged as a fine, elegant vehicle in its own right, adept at expressing sentiment without pitching into sentimentality.

“Joanna” is a song about the ache of loss; “Round We Go Again” captures the relief of a relationship recovered from the brink; “Don’t Talk to Me That Way” captures the stealthy, destructive blight with which a cruel word can infect a love affair; “Let It Go Now” is a pick-yourself-up message of hope.

There are two odd songs out: Lennon and McCartney’s “We Can Work It Out”, punctuating the line of experience described by Woloshin and her songwriting partner Jennifer Dent with a loose, almost jaunty interpretation of the Beatles classic; and Barney Griffin’s “You Break My Fall”, which brings the set to a calm, poignant resolution. Astutely produced by Steely Dan veteran Kevin Bents, Water Into Wine is a smart, polished advertisement for an impressive talent.