Apr 25, 2013

Lovely Karen, Early Barbara & Yma, Fingering With Wes, Plus Ryuichi's Shining And A Faux-Ghetto Secret Song!

"Tart," "singular," "intelligent" and "slinky" are just a few of the adjectives that come to mind when I think of Karen Akers. I first saw her onstage in the original Broadway production of "Nine" - and I was hooked. I saw her again in "Grand Hotel," and with the help of my Cuban Luvuh, I've been collecting her LPs ever since. She hasn't been on Broadway since "Grand Hotel" (that I know of) but remains, as The New York Times says, "one of cabaret's ranking art-song interpreters."

"Unchained Melodies" - a Cheerful Chanteuse Exclusive! - isn't "arty" (or at least not to me), but it does offer Karen singing "Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered" and making it so emotionally complete, you'll swear it's a new song. The same might be said of "Blame It On A Summer Night," or Sondheim's "Sooner Or Later," or just about any song here. She burrows into them like a Method actor; not a single lyric is taken for granted. In other words, she's spellbinding.

If Karen Akers is spellbinding and singular, then Yma Sumac is...what, exactly? Conspicuous? Especial? Fantastico?

If anyone deserves their own adjective, it's Yma, don't you think? Oh, and what about the musical "Flahooley?" (...) (...) (...sorry, I just fell asleep thinking about it). Basically, it was this 1951 Broadway mess with puppets, left-wing politics and songs by Sammy Fain and E.Y. Harburg. Before you get excited, this isn't a cult item like "Anyone Can Whistle." Not by a long shot. Still, there's a "but." There's actually two.

The Original Cast LP - a So-o-o Yma Cheerful Exclusive! - includes Barbara Cook in her first Broadway role (she sounds wonderful) and three, count 'em, three, Yma Sumac tracks that are pure delight - and surely catnip for all her fans like you and me. Not surprisingly, her wordless songs were written specially for her by Moises Vivanco, her Peruvian collaborator whom she married, divorced, re-married and divorced yet again (oh, you crazy kids). I love all of her cues here, but my favorite is "Birds/Enchantment," which at one point features her casually imitating a melodic, bird-like flute. In perfect pitch. 

Are there any hard-bop fans out there? There are? Then you've come to the right place. Wes is here (again)!

His 1957 "Fingerpickin'" LP, remastered in 1996, includes not just Wes, but jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, who was making his recording debut (get ready for this) at age seventeen. This was also Wes' first solo LP, though he's happily joined by his brothers Monk and Buddy. Several modern reviewers out there believe Wes was still finding his sound, but I laugh at them - Hahahahahahaha! - because it all sounds deliciously mellow and seasoned to me.

Are you all jazzed-out? Had enough of Broadway and such? Then perhaps you need to trance out a bit with Ryuichi and an elephant.

I don't mean to imply that Ryuichi Sakamoto has made a "trance" CD, only to say that his music for the movie "Shining Boy And Little Randy" can put you into a trance-like state. Which I mean in a good way (of course).

I haven't seen this 2005 movie about an outcast Thai teenager named Tetsumu and his elephant (which truthfully, sounds a bit sticky) (to me), but Ryuichi's music is equal parts bouncy, dreamy and nostalgic. Maybe it's a tribute to the music that I actually thought of adding the movie to my Netflix cue, only to realize that they don't carry it (damn you, Netflix!). Oh, well. At least I have the music.

Fans, fans, fans, fans. The Secret Song File has a camera-ready smile whenever they pop up (as they invariably do) (like mosquitoes to a blood host). And, yes, the fans always want a picture. Good God, isn't her soul enough? How much must she give, give, give. Will it ever be enough? Are Cheetos proper to serve as hors d'oeuvres at a dinner party? "Why Cheetos?" you ask. Because Miss Britney's in the house, and where there is Britney, there are always Cheetos. Confused? Me, too.

No, this isn't a new CD by Brit-Brit, but she is a guest vocoder vocalist on one of the songs (using a British accent) (?). Is it mindless fluff? Yes, and in fact, the entire CD is completely brain-free. But it's got a beat, ya'll, and this wily Pea knows how to string them together. I probably don't need to give you any more hints (even if your name is William), but if you still don't know who it is, then just smile like the Secret Song File. Your fans will thank you.

Before posing, always check your teefs for salad bits and such. 

Drop your beats in the comments if you like!


Faze said...

I'm glad to see that Karen Akers has recorded A LOT, so there's plenty more to discover after this. She does have a nice way with a lyric -- you need a certain amount of intelligence to deliver a Lorenz Hart song convincingly. As for Yma -- I was frightened by one of her EP covers as a child (the scowling idol, the mysterious word Xtabay), but I realized that I'd known nothing of fear until I lowered the needle and heard those sounds that I only later connected with a human voice. And some people claim that music before rock and roll was tame!

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

I can sooooo understand being frightened by Yma as a child. Lucky for me, I didn't discover her till high school - right when I discovered drugs! And so they'll always be indelibly linked (for me). Even now when I listen to her, I could swear I get some sort of sense-memory buzz. Somehow, I think she'd approve.

Anonymous said...

404 not found for Karen Akers :(

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

Oh, no! Taking care of it. Check back in about 30.

Jack Gardner said...

It looks like both Karen Akers albums are no more.... :-(

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

Karen's back again, Jack!