Lawrence Lebo: Rhythm and Roots
A myth exists in singer Lawrence Lebo's family that the pixie-banged brunette with the warm and humid presence, and encyclopedic American musical view, was conceived during a Saturday night re-run of the Lawrence Welk showhence, the name.
That name. Lawrence Lebo. Delicately avoiding strict political correctness, "what kind of name is that for a girl?" The answer to that question is part of the myth of the image and music.
Too clever by half, Lebo need never have another collection title, Don't Call Her Larry being perfect. Just add a descriptor after the colon and go with it. That is very, very smart branding of one's product, in this case the singer's bright, voluptuous and fun voice and her intelligent and informed sense of humor.
However, said sense of humor can be a pitfall. If an artist comes off too cute, he or she runs the risk of not being taken seriously or, even worse, dramatically reducing the breadth of his or her appeal. Lebo avoids this through sheer talent. Claiming that her professional life really had no plan, there is a definite thread that binds her three extant recordings together. Sometimes a natural evolution is all that is necessary to achieve something special and Lebo is enjoying such an evolution.
In his landmark survey of the great classical music figures, Lives of the Great Composers (W.W. Norton, 1997, Third Edition), Harold Schonberg titled his chapter on Johannes Brahms, "Keeper of the Flame." He did so to highlight Brahms' abiding respect for his predecessor Beethoven, choosing to expand that master's language horizontally rather than further aid the music's full-blown vertical development into the Romantic as advocated by Richard Wagner. This is what Lebo aims to do with the masters of American music.
Using another classical music allusion, Lebo is like Felix Mendelssohn, who, in 1829, resurrected the music of Johann Sebastian Bach in the guise of Bach's Matthäus-Passion (St. Matthew's Passion), giving the first performance of the piece since the composer's death 70 years prior. Lebo is very much a keeper of the flame, but not simply that. She intends, in the evolution of her art, to reunite the unique American vernacular to the music America gave birth to, the blues, jazz, American folk and western swing. Her journey doing so is both compelling and fun as heck.
Don't Call Her Larry, Volume 1: Lawrence Lebo and her Little Big Band
On the Air Records
The first installment of Don't Call Her Larry, Lawrence Lebo and her Little Big Band, is a teaser. It is an EP boasting just enough music (four songs) to generate interest. The same approach was used recently by Kristen Porter on her EP, By The Light of the Mood (Self Produced, 2010) with impressive success. This Lebo offering from 2004 provides all the information needed to embrace the character that is the singer.
Lebo introduces herself with the blues "On Time." This song may well be Lebo's theme song, occurring here in her Little Big Band splendor and then completely stripped down on Don't Call Her Larry, Volume 3: American Roots. Little Big Band may be a bit misleading because of the total absence of reeds and horns, Lebo opting instead for strings, the violin being a thread through all of her recordings. Add virtuoso banjo and mandolin and the band picture is complete. Lebo and band achieve a grand recreation of original western swing of the Midwest in the 1920s and 1930s, the country and western equivalent of big band jazz of the period.
Lebo's blues sensibility is completely intact as evidenced on "On Time" and the closer, Koko Taylor's "Please Don't Dog Me." She is sexy without being salacious, a tease willing to make good if good is what she gets. When Lebo sings, "The man who is careless, doesn't work hard / He'll never get employment, not in my shipping yard," you know she means business, generating not just a little interest in that "shipping yard." Instrumentally, the standout performances are the angular banjo solos by Pat Cloud, who outdoes Bela Fleck at his own serious game with humor and confidence.