Joan Crowe: Bird On The Wire (2005)
Joan Crowe won the prestigious 2002 MAC Award, which is the cabaret industry's version of the Grammy or Academy Award. Crowe is a dynamic, witty, and unpredictable entertainer, and her debut album demonstrates these traits. Bird On The Wire has all the signs of a well-planned and executed cabaret album, rather than a jazz vocal session. The thirteen tracks display a fine sense of balance between reasonably fresh standards and songs from contemporary singer/songwriters, in addition to other surprises. Pianist/arranger Tedd Firth and bassist Jay Leonhart are among the supporting musicians.
The relative importance of improvisation on a jazz vocal album is usually an indication of its success. In the course of Bird On The Wire, Joan Crowe takes liberties with several songs, which I feel represents dramatic interpretation, not improvisation. She reinvents the rather famous, almost lethargic Leonard Cohen title tune as a gospel-type number with up-tempo horn riffs. As the song progresses, the pace picks up even more.
Crowe also presents a very dramatic rendition of the Philly soul classic "Me And Mrs. Jones" that is almost unrecognizable to anyone who may be fond of the original Billy Paul version. The Annie Ross lyrics to "Twisted" are half-spoken, and the catchy Wardell Gray melody line is barely discernable. The show tune and jazz classic "Never-Never Land," usually performed as a ballad or jazz waltz, is presented with a bouncy up-tempo treatment, which renders the intended lullaby-ish lyrics meaningless.
One gets the impression that all of the above issues play out in a positive way on the floor of a supper club or theatre stage. Unfortunately, the listener is left with only the audio portion of this scenario and must be able to disregard any feelings about previous versions of a particular song. We're not talking about Betty Carter reinventing "Surrey With The Fringe On Top" here. Rather, it would be that tune with either a tempo or melody change, or both.
Joan Crowe does in fact present many positive aspects on this album. The ballads "The Way You Look Tonight" and "I Cover The Waterfront" are given a first-class treatment and Tom Anderson's "Every Night I Sleep With An Angel" exemplifies a cabaret standard that is waiting for discovery by the general public. "I'm Only Sleeping" is an obscure Beatles tune set to a reggae feel, and "Boom Boom" shows Crowe's sense of humor. The album ends with her rendition of "Falling In Love Again" in German ("Ich Bin Von Kopf Bis Fuss"), in what must be a Marlene Dietrich tribute.
Track Listing: Fever/Caught A Touch Of Your Love; Never-Never Land; Every Night I Sleep With An Angel; The Way You Look Tonight; Boom Boom; Petite Southern Woman; I Cover The Waterfront; I'm Only Sleeping; Everything; Me And Mrs. Jones; Twisted; Bird On A Wire; Ich Bin Von Kopf Bis Fuss.
Personnel: Joan Crowe: vocals; Tedd Firth: piano; Jay Leonhart or Scott Neuman: bass; Justin Flynn: horns, clarinet; Mike Petit: Hammond organ; George Walker Petit: guitars, percussion, background vocals.
Record Label: Evensong