McBroom, Simmons, Mason, Molaskey Send Forth Top-Drawer CDs

Voices – Amanda McBroom (Gecko Records): Wounded hearts are one of the collection’s pressing themes, perhaps the overarching theme. A related issue is the all-too-often transitory nature of love. Also stressed is the power of the past to affect the present—not always positively. Then there’s the power of hope. Singing in her pure manner, McBroom chooses songs that, as she sees it, reiterate these constants. Undoubtedly, the prolific songwriting McBroom is still best known for “The Rose,” which she reprises in a quite different version from her initial track: She’s beautifully joined by Vince Gill. Of the 13 inclusions, she wrote nine, three with frequent collaborator Michele Brourman. She opens with Julie Gold’s “Southbound Train,” including a lyric about a damaged heart ”on the baggage rack.” Songwriter Gold is still best known for supplying—as with McBroom’s “The Rose”—the other Bette Midler signature song “From a Distance.” This anthem demonstrates Gold’s plangent strengths. Of the other songs, only “The Last Thing on my Mind” and “The Twelfth of Never” are well-known, but McBroom’s versions of the others suggests they all should be recognized as standards. Voices was produced in Nashville. (Vince Gill was probably close at hand). When singers go to Music City (see also k. d. lang), they tend to produce something that sounds unmistakably country—maybe uptown country, but country all the same. There’s nothing wrong with that, as this brilliant CD completely substantiates.

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The Simon + Garfunkel Collection – Brad Simmons (bradsimmon.com): There are singers, and then there are singer/interpreters. The best singers—not the show-off kind—bring their personalities, their idiosyncratic style to repertoire. They make a point of singing a song as the songwriter(s) wrote the song to be sung. Singer/interpreters approach material by thinking seriously about how that particular song applies to them. They listen to songs in order to hear implications and possibilities that tunesmiths themselves may not realize they’ve embedded in what they’ve written. Brad Simmons is one of the latter, and one about whom you immediately want to know more. He announces his intentions in a Paul Simon reexamination. (Often, these are songs introduced by Simon and Art Garfunkel, but Simon is the composer-lyricist, of course.) The kick-off is “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).” What Simmons is letting listeners know is he’s going to travel new grooves along the Simon canon. Basic to his deconstruction/reconstruction is the difference between a guitar setting and a piano setting. Whether guitarist Simon composes all his songs on guitar may or may not be so, but it’s likely that fans, tend to assume they were, and that they have an essentially guitar base. Simmons is a piano man. He handles chords as if he were performing one weight-lifting clean-and jerk after another. That’s only the beginning. When Simon and Garfunkel sing the catalog, they’re delivering them straight on. Simmons has created his own persona: a slightly uncertain city kid getting his deepest emotions aired by way of Simon’s most-loved tunes. He ends with—what else?—“Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Impressive as all get-out.

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It’s About Time – Karen Mason (Zevely): For some time now Mason has had one of the most powerful sets of pipes in cabaret. This is a magnificent asset. It does, however, carry within it a not uncommon temptation for singers like her. (Okay, there’s no one quite like Mason.) The temptation? Give the voice free rein—and reign—so’s the ringside folks know just who’s in charge here. Not infrequently, Mason has found the urge too strong to resist. She’d be going along just fine with getting a lyric across when suddenly she’d discard meaning to drill the high notes. The terrific news on the new release is that from start to finish none of that carrying on obtains. She’s true to every one of the eclectic selections. And some of them had to have been very tempting. Something like “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” or “The Man That Got Away” could eventually have been sent into the wrong open skies. Not this time for Mason. She can be heard thinking about, and feeling, the emotion behind every lyric. This may be because she’s approaching the material as an actress. Never forget she understudied Glenn Close during the first Sunset Boulevard Broadway production. This could be why she attacks “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from Gypsy and “Fifty Percent” from Ballroom as if auditioning for the meaty roles. Hubby Paul Rolnick, who’s own CD, Shoot for the Moon, is now released, produced extremely well.

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Portraits of Joni Mitchell – Jessica Molaskey (Ghostlight): Singers often have songwriters with whom they have a special affinity. Just as Brad Simmons (see above) is infatuated with Paul Simon, Jessica Molaskey is a Joni Mitchell partisan. Something deep in Mitchell calls to her, and she answers with a collection throughout which she applies her smoky, profound imprint. Listening to her redrawn portraits is like suddenly tuning into a previously undiscovered music stratosphere. That’s to say the arrangements for which hubby John Pizzarelli and she are mostly responsible have a unique and sustainingly reflective guitar-based, neo-bossa-nova-ish, lilting, lulling mood. (Other arrangements in keeping with the prevailing approach come from pianist Larry Goldings, Jason Robert Brown and daughter Madeleine Pizzarelli.) Like Mason (see above), Molaskey is a Broadway veteran and so an actress, too. (She’s also a lyricist and painter, having done the CD cover’s self-portrait.) Much forceful acting goes on as she plumbs the Mitchell songbook for things that move her. In the most recent Pizzarelli-Molaskey Café Carlyle gig, she included a “Both Sides Now” that was so heart-breaking the audience had to do a little recovering before the pair could continue. For lucky listeners, her version is included here, with the Goldings plaintive solo piano arrangement. Many of the tracks, some enthralling medleys, feature background singing usually done by Molaskey but sometimes aided by Pizzarelli father and daughter. Result? Here’s further proof that the musical family that plays together is one of those that stays together, surely in the recording studio. Can a sincere thank-you note signed Joni Mitchell be far behind?

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