Jul 29, 2015

Judy X Infinity, Nancy's Live, Plus Dirty Ditties And A Madhouse Rock Secret Song!

I hope you're hungry today, because I've got a huge platter of Judy for you. Oh, and brew some coffee, because the DLs, as the kids say, might take you a bit. But it's so-o-o insanely worth it. "But why is it insanely worth it?" you say. I'll tell you why (thanks for asking). This unusual collection is comprised of songs that Judy performed more than one time, like the showstopper "On the Atchison, Topeka," which she performed for the MGM movie "Harvey Girls" (co-starring a very young Angela Lansbury), and also for Decca Records in July of 1945, and again for Decca in September of 1945. Yet they all have a unique tone, tempo and more important, a different vocal delivery.

If, like me, you think of Judy as the greatest actress of song, then this is a master class. It's not often that you get to see (or hear) the same actor do the exact same role with a vastly different approach (I'm sure some have, though I can't think of one at the moment), but here, Judy does. The CD doesn't feel repetitive - which was my initial fear before playing it - because her dramatic motives are sometimes completely reshaped from the previous. And they all work. It really is one of her best compilations.

Have you heard about Miss Nancy Kelly? She's a classical-pianist-turned-rock-lead-singer-turned-jazz-vocalist. She's been there and back - and now she's here to tell you about it.

When I first listened to Nancy, it felt like I was struck by a lightening bolt. She can scat like a madwoman, which is to say, brilliantly, and it's what I first noticed about her. But there's quite a bit more. In her 1999 CD "Live Jazz," her hundred-proof singing can make you feel as if you're being whisked though five different high-wire lifetimes - and it's thrilling. There are very few jazz vocalists who lay it out so openly, much less with such "wow" technique (her phrasing and attack is scarily perfect). So hold tight and give a listen, because I'm not telling you anything more (really). I don't want to spoil your first Nancy experience (okay, so I'll spoil one thing; she does a semi-insane calypso version of "Over the Rainbow" which is pure delight).

Do you like raunchy tunes? If you do - and who doesn't? - then you'll probably enjoy a spicy li'l ditty called "It's Tight Like That" (which is about when you, um, and it's too, well, you know). No, it's not the latest Nicki Minaj single, it's performed by Clara Smith, pictured below. And it was recorded in the early 1920s. Oh, snap!

Clara was a renowned blues legend in the 1920s and 30s - "Queen of the Moaners," as they called her - though she started in the theatre and vaudeville before becoming a "must-see" at cabarets and speakeasies in NYC. That's where she hit the big time after being signed by Columbia Records. She was wildly popular in her day and might have achieved more enduring fame had she not been felled by a heart attack when she was only forty-years-old.

Clara's just one of many fantastic singers in "Those Dirty Blues," a two-CD set which lives up to its name, with song titles like "Wet It" - performed by Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon, a popular blues performer and drag queen (yes, they had those back then) - "She's Givin' It Away" and "I Want a Hot Dog For My Roll." I always chuckle when people complain about the raunch in today's popular music, because it's always been there. "But I have enough filth in my life!" you tell me.  But do you? Do you really?

The Secret Song File can never have enough naughtiness (duh!), but lately, she's had it with rock 'n' roll. "Why has she had it with rock 'n' roll?" you inquire. I'll tell you why (thanks for asking). Because rock 'n' roll hasn't evolved with any real significance since the late 1970s. Since that time? The same shredding guitar solos, the same pre-pubescent (or aging) (read: Bono) performer wailing like a stuck pig. Somebody needs to shake things up. But will anyone notice if they do?

Possibly. The Secret Song File has lately been listening to a highly, um, let's say suspicious (*cough*cough*) new CD that appears to have leaped out of a madhouse (*cough*cough*). But more to the point, these Brooklyn rockers' debut is the best new rock 'n' roll album the Secret Song file has heard in ages. Have they reinvented the wheel? Not exactly, yet it still sounds fresh and unprocessed (or at least not processed to sludge).

So rock out, kids, because the Cheerful Earfull is taking the rest of the summer off. Wheeee! But fear not, all the giggles and tunes will return after Labor Day (that's after September 7th for those of you across the pond). Have fun, wear plenty of sunscreen and for God's sakes, stay away stuff like this, because ain't nobody got time for that (or the money to bail you out).

Happy Summer 'n' stuff!

Leave a little sunburn in the comments, if you like.

Jul 19, 2015

A Fabulous Starr, Mel's Best, Jane Goes Cocoanuts, Plus Nikki's Coffee And An Amsterdam Secret Song!

Oh, such joyful treasures to share with you today! I scarcely know where to start. But why not begin with our old friend Kay Starr (above looking glamourama in middle-age). Yes, it's true, she's back for another Cheerfully Starr Exclusive! I can't think of a happier summer CD to listen to than this brisk, thirty-minute collection of choice Kay tunes, including a version of "Honeysuckle Rose" that's new to me and a lot rowdier than I've heard her perform it before. In other words, it's fantastic.

Unfortunately, the CD didn't come with liner notes, and while I suspect that this is a compilation, I don't know what LP the tracks originate from, much less what year they were recorded. I'd do some detective work, but I'm too busy enjoying the music, so maybe a few of you Starr-heads (and I know you're out there; her posts are amongst the most popular on this site) can fill me in on the details 'n' such in the comments. For everyone else, enjoy; it's a fun CD no matter where it all came from. Oh, and did you know? Kay was one of Judy Garland's favorite singers. No matter where she was - at home, traveling, over the rainbow - she always had a few Kay LPs ready to play.

Recently, my Cuban Luvuh re-introduced me to Jane Morgan, the luminous, big-voiced nightclub and Broadway star who was married forever to the recently deceased producer Jerry Weintraub (so Jane surely knows this guy, which somehow seems fitting). And, yes, she's still kickin' at ninety-one!

Recorded mid-career in 1962, "At the Cocoanut Grove" (a Just Jane Cheerful Exclusive!) is a terrific summary of Jane's life at that point, including a medley of Paris-themed songs - which hearken to the start of her showbiz career; she first found success in Europe and the UK - and a ribald look back to old-time burlesque numbers popularized by Lilian Russell in the early 1900s. Yet what's most astonishing about the LP in the power of her voice in a live setting, something that doesn't come across as sharply in her studio recordings.

In "The Day the Rains Came," originally a French-language song, she all but blows the top off the nightclub rooftop, and in "Don't Throw Stones At Your Mother," she infuses the lyric with a controlled force, even anger, that seems to cut a direct vein into the song's core. Go on, give a listen. You won't be disappointed, I swear.

Few people can be described as sublimely funny, but let's be honest, is there anything more sublime than Madeline doing Marweena Marlene Dietrich? Or rather, is there anything funnier than Madeline in any Mel Brooks movie? Yeah, I don't think so, either.

Madeline performs as Marlene ("I'm so ti-i-i-ired," she warbles) in "High Anxiety: Mel Brooks' Greatest Hits," a must CD with oodles of songs and tunes from "Young Frankenstein," "The Producers," "Twelve Chairs" and lots more, plus John Morris' sprightly satirical music for "Silent Movie." But for me, it's Madeline who steals the show, but then she always did. Oh, and guess what? There a new bio out about her life, and it not only sounds definitive, but a whole lot of fun. Which is likely just how she'd want it to be.

Meanwhile, where the hell have I been? I've only lately caught on to the multi-talented Nicki Parrott. And I fully admit that she first caught my attention because of her name. It's just too good to be true (but it is).

Not only is the Australian-born Nicki an irresistibly smokey-voice jazz singer, she's also an accomplished bassist, which is never far from her side. Her 2010 "Black Coffee" is a scrumptious collection of jazz classics, and yes, even those who think modern vocalists are incapable of bringing a singular style to the old standards will be wowed. Though she's knocked 'em flat at Feinstein's in NYC and the world over, strangely, she's not as well known as I'd assume she would be. Why is this? To whom do I complain? Let's change this together, m'k? Her vocals are very much like her bass playing - just another instrument, and she plays them both with an infectious, what-the-hell dexterity that few are capable of these days (male or female). No, really. She's that good.

Sometimes the Secret Song File just needs to kick back and relax, whether it be at home or a bar or while shopping. Which means the music shouldn't be too serious, but it can't just drone on like drool, either. This is the time she prefers trance, baby, trance; the musical equivalent of half a Valium. In fact, it goes wonderfully with Valium (so I hear).

Luckily, there's a new 3-CD trance thingie out by some "hawt" Dutch DJ who's dedicated this release to sunrise, or specifically, sunrise in his "Venice Of The North," as some people refer to this city. But whatever, it's a perfect CD to recline and and chill with (though be careful with that Valium).

Will Jell-O pudding ever taste the same?

What is it the rainbow feels? Tell us all in the comments!