Sep 12, 2013

Kay's Tears, Karen Sings Styne, Plus Benzedrine In Your Ovaltine And A Kiss/Kitsch Secret Song!

Kay Starr does it all! Jazz, pop, blues and, yes, country, too. Her musical choices seem to take her by whim, and occasionally, by commercial necessity (her career spans five decades). But Kay never sold out. She approaches each genre with the same crystal-clear directness - her vocals shaping each song to tell a story with a distinct beginning, middle and end. This makes country an especially good fit for her, since - in the past, at least - country music was largely about first-person storytelling.

When "Years & Heartaches/Old Records" - a Country Kay Cheerful Exclusive! - was released in 1966, audiences didn't quite know what to make of it. Like her previous outing, "Just Plain Country," her vocals and arrangements changed to suit each song, which meant that - on this LP, especially - if she thought a more pop vibe suited "Make The World Go Away," for example, then that's the direction she took. She let the music and lyrics lead her.

The result is a jewel of an album; underrated at its time, but ripe for re-discovery. Yes, jazz is Kay's forte - Billie Holiday once said she's "the only white woman who can sing the blues" - but I don't think country is all that removed from her "skill set," as the kids say. And get this. Kay's 90 years old and still performing! That's hawt.

No one does eleganza-extravaganza better than Karen Akers, don't you think? So poised. So fragile. Yet so strong. And, yes, so-o-o-o beeeeeee-utiful.

In 2007, The New York Times all but wrote her a love letter when she appeared at the Algonquin with her "Simply Styne" cabaret show. Hyperbole? Overkill? It seemed that way to me until I finally heard the CD, and, yes, it's as entrancing as the reviewer claims it to be. And, hooray, It's also a Glamour Gal Cheerful Exclusive!

You might be put off by Karen's cool approach at first, but listen to the album from start to finish; the coolness is just a slow (and necessary) build for a warm, and finally, fiery set. And it's worth the wait. This is one of her best CD's, I think, an emotion-charged portrait that becomes more complex and complete with each successive song.

Baby-Bhang! Ganja! Reefer! Giggle Weed! Or as they used to call it, "Marihuana." Governments and movie studios have always tried to demonize it, though not always successfully. Case in point is "Assassin Of Youth," whose 1937 poster, perhaps intentionally, makes pot look like an awful lot of fun. "Wild-Mad Thrills" you say? Dude, I'm so there.

I'm assuming you've watched "Reefer Madness" (and if you haven't, rent a copy and sit right back; it's hilarious), but get this, did you know that America's most esteemed President smoked the bud? Writers, too, of course, and artists, musicians, and lots and lots and lots and lots of celebrities.

So keep that in mind when you listen to "Drug Songs: High And Low, 1917-1944," a dizzying (in a good way) 2005 collection of songs and ditties that celebrate not just Mary Jane, but moonshine, wacky dust (and lots of other legally questionable substances), all performed by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway and Memphis Minnie (I'd say something about a contact high, but everyone's vaping their weed these days, aren't they?).

Sometimes when a musician puts out a new CD, it's like they want to give you a big wet kiss, but more often than not, it's a big wet kitsch. The latter can be fun, of course (in small does), but on a regular basis? Behold the Secret Song File below, who's receiving one wet kitsch too many. Enough, already!

So where does this once-gravely-injured-in-a-tour-bus-accident-Cuban-artist fall in the kiss/kitsch spectrum on her very latest CD? Somewhere in-between, actually. A few of her jazz numbers are cool and satisfying, but on other tracks, when she goes for "big emotions?" Well, let's just say she overplays them (or runs them over with a tour bus) (oh, no, I di'nt!). Still, she's still putting new material out, so I admire her for that, and she looks pretty damn good for 56 (which is older than Madonna!) (which is SO OLD!).

But we'll be young forever, won't we?

Share your li'l ol' thoughts in the comments, if you like!

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