LERNER IN LOVE
I am flat out in love with Lerner in Love and think it's a remarkable achievement. Barbara Brussell wraps herself up in Alan Jay Lerner's lyrics and relishes so many individual words and turns of phrase in a way that makes me appreciate singer and song more than ever. What strikes me is that she is so present at each emotional point in the story of each song. Very much an actress, Barbara makes the most of each moment, making often unexpected choices in phrasing. One of the things I remember most in reading about the lyricist and playwright is how he often took weeks on various drafts, tweaking, rewriting, going back to the drawing board. When this interpreter takes such care in bringing out the craft of the rhymes and images, I can't help but be grateful for the fruits of that labor.
I didn't think I'd find so many new ways of looking at these songs after knowing the various cast albums plus countless cover versions of the hits, and Lerner collections by vocalists Julie Andrews, Brent Barrett, the jazz duo Jackie & Roy, an old album with Kaye Ballard and the man himself, and Ben Bagley's Alan Jay Lerner Revisited, plus three concert tributes.
Barbara is a fearless singer. She is more than willing to be revealing, fragile, even foolishly and naively romantic. She dives right into the romantic waters, but most of the songs chosen are the happier ones, so she's not drowning in treacherous seas. Whether belting or taking a turn at quiet reflection, the singer is commanding. Her fuzzy, fizzy voice is well suited to a sense of awe and wonder as in "Gigi" or "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face." In these numbers where a character is thinking out loud and discovering something, she is so "in the moment" you'd swear she didn't yet know what the next line is. I was especially happy to hear two selections from the Broadway score Carmelina: the perfect mood-establishing album opener, "It's Time for a Love Song," and one of the most perfect bittersweet songs ever, "One More Walk Around the Garden."
Although Barbara can rip the roof off and rip your heart out with a torchy turn such as "What Did I Have That I Don't Have," I think she's even better at the most unabashedly romantic numbers. Four songs from Brigadoon, Lerner's first hit show, are especially glorious in this category, with their majestic Frederick Loewe melody lines. With a generous 71-minute playing time and five tracks being two-song medleys, the beguiling and breathy ballads are wisely varied with powerful and passionate pleas, like "Anyone Who Loves," a call for tolerance from Dance a Little Closer (1983) with Charles Strouse's music. That show's title song is successfully partnered with "I Could Have Danced All Night," one of four from My Fair Lady. The classic score's "Show Me," usually sung in explosive fury, is slowed down considerably and revealed to be seductive rather than assertive. It's the major reinvention here among many smaller, more subtle creative ideas.
This is a high-class, high-gloss production with high marks for the arrangements and the work of all musicians. Barbara is reunited with Todd Shroeder who produced, orchestrated and played piano on her only other solo album, Patterns, which also showed off her quirky and comic side, back in 1998. Here he produces and sings one duet quite effectively ("You Haven't Changed At All") but only plays piano on three tracks. He shares arranging credits with Scott Harlan and Tedd Firth, the main pianist. Tedd is one of the most skilled and sensitive players I've seen and heard in cabaret and jazz. Other top jazz players are present: Steve LaSpina is on bass and the wonderful Gene Bertoncini on guitar. Trumpeter Warren Vache makes valuable contributions on three tracks and Robert Kyle sits in on sax on "There's Always One You Can't Forget." Likewise, this album is one you can't forget: it stays with you.
Although these interpretations sound fresh and spontaneous, it's all been developed and honed in live engagements since the first month of 2004 through this Saturday when she appears in New York again. After appearing on the bill with many others that night at the Cabaret Convention at Lincoln Center, she'll have a late show at Danny's Skylight Room. Next, she's turning her attention to Johnny Mercer. I can't wait