Two things should have been obvious to anyone who listened to Jane Monheit’s debut CD, Never Never Land. First, Ms. Monheit, with her lovely crystaline soprano and solid musicianship, was a singer with an abundance of raw talent. Second, given her youth, good looks and conservative repertoire, Ms. Monheit’s commercial success was likely to far outpace her artistic growth.
Unfortunately, judging from her lackluster sophomore CD, Come Dream With Me, Ms. Monheit, or her handlers, have made the mistake of confusing CD sales with artistic stature. The arrogant and wrongheaded presumption underlying this disc appears to be a belief that everything Ms. Monheit does is inherently great. As a result, no effort has been made to focus the singer’s gifts. The unaffected sincerity evident on her first CD has largely been replaced by preening self-indulgence.
Take, for example, the opening track, a florid version of “Over the Rainbow.” If that tune will always remain Judy Garland’s personal property, singers like Jimmy Scott and Eva Cassidy have demonstrated that, with enough investment, the song can at least be leased. Ms. Monheit, however, fails to come up with a security deposit. For all of the beauty of her voice, her performance is anemic. She sounds more involved with her own singing of the tune rather than with the tune itself.
Ms. Monheit seems to choose songs she likes rather than songs she has the ability to sing. She fails to appreciate that if you are going to record a well-known song, you have an obligation to try to add something new to our collective understanding of the tune. Otherwise, all you are doing is wallowing in a shallow pool of easy listening nostalgia. Ms. Monheit’s performances of songs like Billy Strayhorn’s “Something to Live For” and Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” lack either the musical or the interpretative authority to justify their existence. She does better on a tune like “Blame It On My Youth” where her naiveté actually serves to underscore the meaning of the age-appropriate lyric.
The brief attempts to turn up the tempo are hardly more successful. A playful “I’m Through With Love” starts off delightfully, but Ms. Monheit seems to lose her way as the tune progresses. On “Waters of March,” she fails to account for the structural differences between Brazilian tunes and their American Songbook counterparts, and so she stomps when she should glide. The banality of her melodic embellishments and scat singing on “Hit the Road to Dreamland” make you wish she had given those choruses over to the musicians, who, despite being world class soloists all, are generally confined to the background.
Come Dream With Me sounds like the work of a young singer pretending to be a great singer. With any luck, Ms. Monheit will eventually grow tired of the charade and get on with learning how to become the genuine article.
Personnel: Jane Monheit: vocals; Kenny Barron: piano; Christian McBride: bass; Gregory Hutchinson: drums; Tom Harrell: trumpet; Michael Brecker: saxophone; Richard Bona: guitar; strings.