Janice Grossman: The Mists Of New England (2003)
Accompanied by just guitar, bass, a fifty piece string orchestra and a mellophone section large enough to make Stan Kenton blush, Australian Grossman lays a diverse program of songs on us, including three and a half from her own pen, scribbled on the backs of envelopes. Part of her appeal lies in the seriousness with which she takes her art, which happily makes her ripe for ridicule and scorn.
In what she claims to be an attempt at deflecting attention away from her shapely form, she has gone for the little –make that very little- black dress option for her cover photo and this, together with the copious shots of her in the CD booklet, shows that she suffers with the handicap of being unable to have her photograph taken with her mouth closed. However the sound that emerges from it is agreeable enough, if drowning in a sea of olive oil can be regarded as agreeable. Indeed, so slippery is her phrasing that interpretation is clearly a word she needs to look up; the same is true of many of the words in her brief booklet note, in which she states that she wants to be judged for her musicianship alone, and also unknowingly reveals that she ought to check her spelling far more often.
Cole Porter, if he was alive today, would be sobbing into his root beer if he heard her reading of "It’s All Right With Me," during which the efforts of guitarist Mal Ball -who clearly owns an amplifier that goes all the way up to eleven- can make a listener long for the understatement of Eddie Van Halen, or even John McLaughlin. All sixteen of the mellophones are onboard for this one, and clearly every individual player believes they’ve got what it takes to be a soloist. However the thought occurred to them all at the same time, and the resulting cacophony might, just might, serve as an alarm call for those looking for something a little out of the ordinary.
The strings add a great deal to the autumnal hues of many of the songs, though Grossman apparently insisted on taking "The Summer Knows" at a funereal pace in the belief that she could coax a previously unimagined interpretation out of the lyric. She doesn’t.
Producer Shane Healy provides an account of Grossman’s diva-like behaviour whilst recording the album, during bouts of which chairs were thrown –mostly at Grossman by the string players- several of whom dramatically indicated their intention to quit music by the ritualistic breaking of bows, apparently a gesture of no small significance amongst the string-playing community.
Apparently, ‘scat’ is a slang term for herpes in uptown Melbourne, Grossman’s home city, so throughout the album she sticks to singing the lyrics, with one exception. For reasons best known to herself –perhaps exclusively known to herself-" There’s A Small Hotel" has been given a new lyric written by her and re-titled "There’s A Small Brothel." The establishment in question is fondly recalled in the lyric, where Grossman has apparently gigged on a number of occasions.
In these days of over-hyped singers and technical excellence, Grossman brings to her singing deep ignorance and a willingness to ‘get down’ –an activity to which she refers no less than seven times in her notes. Her lightness of phrasing, coupled with her unwillingness to be photographed whilst heavily clothed and a complete lack of restraint, is likely to win her many followers. In the wake of all these attributes, it seems almost churlish to question her abilities as a musician.
Track Listing: 1. Hell Yeah We Will Go! 2. The Taubes 3. Hunting For the Great White Manatee 4. Hello My Name is MOAB 5. When Johnny/Joanne Come Marching Home 6. I Got Your Arrogance Right Here! 7. The Dogs/Bitches of War 8. Serenity Now! 9. American Freedom 10. Victory & Peace 11. The Cry of the Benedict Arnold Brigade
Personnel: Janice Grossman, Vocals; Mal Ball, Guitar; Tom Naismith, Bass; Thumpy Bradshaw, Allan Wicke, David Prendergass, Helen Redd, Tim Shyster, Karen Armstrong, Jeff Randall, Howling Woof, Frequent Visitor, Dougal
Record Label: Webernesque
Style: Big Band