May 12, 2016

Ranee Does Bille, Anita's Got Rhythm, Plus Hibari Gets Jazzy And A Fun-Girl-Goes-Country Secret Song!

Stand back, ya'll, Ranee is in the house. And she's no ordinary jazz diva. Born in Brooklyn, she later made Canada her home (which me and the Cuban will be doing if the orange orangutan is elected) (but I digress), and first toured not as a singer, but as a jazz drummer and saxophonist.
Soon after, she fell under the spell of Billie Holiday while portraying her in the play "Lady Day At The Bar And Grill" at the Festival de Jazz de Montreal in 1988 (which later hit Broadway starring the ubiquitous Audra McDonald).

Didn't happen to catch her performance? Then today's your lucky day, because in 1989, she released "Deep Song, A Tribute To Billie Holiday," a Rousing Ranee Cheerful Exclusive! just for you. Does she sound like Holiday? No, and I wouldn't want her to, either. What she does do is twofold; she captures the heartache of Holiday, but with a silky, reflective tone, as if looking back on all of Holiday's highs and lows with both joy and remorse. It's a gorgeous album.

And now for a familiar face, the indomitable Anita O'Day:

Part of the fun of loving Anita is discovering more of her work, since a lot of her recordings routinely go in and out of print, or show up in new "restored" versions, while sometimes, if you're lucky, recordings that have never been released suddenly become available.

"Anita O'Day Live" - a Go, Anita, Go Cheerful Exclusive! - has been in and out of print since the 1970s, and features Anita in high spirits with her audience and all-out slaying her repertoire. It's interesting to note that she's the only jazz legend I know of who started out as a 24/7 marathon dancer during the Depression (with soon-to-be-singer/songwriter Frankie Laine as her partner). So is it any big surprise that she's the most rhythmic of all jazz performers? It's in her bones.

I think this might also explain why no matter how many times she recorded a particular song, it always sounded different, because she always found a different rhythmic path. Her never-ending search for a funkier beat meant that when you saw her live, she was reportedly moving every limb to the beat, sometimes independently of each another. She just couldn't help it.

And now let's travel to Nippon, or the Floating Kingdom, as they say, for a visit with the beguiling Misora Hibari.

She's lucky she was able to maintain that beautiful face, because it was almost permanently marred one night when an over-enthusiastic fan tossed hydrochloric acid at her (yikes) (I hate to think what a fan might have thrown if they were unenthusiastic). But I'm getting ahead of myself. This pure-toned songstress was a smash hit in her native Japan starting at age twelve, yet American record companies, supposedly put off by her "too cute" voice, were slow to embrace her.

They finally did, and though she didn't have near the success here as she did in Japan - were she sold nearly 80 million LPs in her lifetime (!) - she's well worth seeking out. This LP brings together some of her best tunes from that period, in which she tackles songs like "Mack The Knife," "Lover Come Back To Me" and "Cry Me A River," sometimes in English, sometimes Japanese, sometimes both in the same song. And yes, her voice is "too cute," though I mean it as a compliment - she's almost insanely delightful-sounding - but don't mistake that cuteness for a lack of chops. With her surprising range and technical virtuosity, Misora's very much the real deal. But, yes, cuter.

Speaking of cute, The Secret Song File and her bestie were out for drinks and a few lines the other night and asking each other, "Who's perennially cute, yet manages to change things up every now and again?" No, they weren't talking about Madge Vadge Madonna, but another gal singer who broke out around the same time, and who everyone thought would be the bigger deal. Because, you know, she could actually sing.

Does anyone sing anymore? I know, for instance, that Beyonce can sing, because I've watched her perform live. But on her CDs lately, she's buried under so much sludgy production - from whatever DJ of the moment is "hawt" - that it almost seems like she's incidental. Or just a small, but necessary, accessory. Like earrings. Or a tongue stud. But I digress. This 80s-era singer can actually sing, and her voice is front-and-center in her new CD, her very first in which she sings country. It's a terrific listen, and fun, too, because that's something girls just wanna do (*cough*hint*cough*). I'll say no more, except to point out that she nearly lost me years ago when she took up wrestling with Captain Lou.

Dafuq was up with that?

Leave your theories in the comments, if you like!


Faze said...

At every step of her career, the "Fun" girl made choices that were just slightly wrong enough to deflect her from the stardom to which she always seemed destined. It began way early, even in her "Blue Angel" years. I'm not sure what she lacked -- good management? Good judgement? Character? Perhaps there were bad habits involved. In any case, she was fortunate to come together briefly with the right song, the right producer, and the right historical moment to create one of the greatest singles of all time and so assure that her name will live forever, and that even this latest (and I don't doubt very fine) collection will get a respectful listen. But I'll always wonder what held her back ... bad taste in men?

tony said...

Ranee Lee: What a pleasant sounding voice! Thanks!

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

You're welcome, Tony!

And Faze, yes, bad taste in men, could be. During her "Blue Angel" years, I was living in NYC and thought, damn, that group's going to be big. Oops. Then when her own LP came out, I remember she was still working at a clothing store! She thought it would tank like the last one did (and then a happier oops).

L'apprenti-poète said...

Lovely woman…i've meet her in a music recording studio in Montréal….Fine lady!

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

I’m officially jealous, L’apprenti. ;)