Vocalist Hanna Richardson will most likely be a new name to you. But hopefully not for long.
She has a natural, relaxed voice and was born to sing. Her warm timbre and uncomplicated phrasing are notable for their ease and expressiveness. You understand every word she sings and, given her selections on this CD, the lyrics deserve to be heard. Richardson’s rich alto has an autumnal quality, perhaps the aural equivalent of alpenglow. And the lady can swing.
In fact, the CD kicks off with a gently swinging version of the cute, under-performed Loesser and Lane “How’dja Like to Love Me,” which was introduced by Bob Hope and Martha Raye (while jamming a banana into her ample mouth) in the 1938 movie College Swing. Hanna follows this little known gem with another rhythm song, Rube Bloom’s “Give Me the Simple Life.” This one is better known but she increases the interest by singing a set of charming alternate lyrics.
Although Something is somewhat of a tribute to vocalist Maxine Sullivan (her picture but not her name is on the cover), Sullivan never recorded four of the songs. However, both vocalist Hanna Richardson and her husband, bassist Phil Flanigan, loved Maxine and her singing... and so her spirit is evident in all fifteen selections. Flanigan also toured and recorded with Sullivan.
Each of the song choices is a treasure; much thought was obviously put into these choices. For example, who else sings the very obscure (but very wonderful) Harold Arlen song, “You Gave Me Everything But Love"? I have no idea why this well-written rhythm ballad is so little known. Richardson’s may be the only vocal rendition other than Sullivan’s and a 1930s recording by Adelaide Hall (with Art Tatum and Johnny Hodges). But even when Hanna sings a well-known evergreen it becomes fresh. For example, on the oft-recorded “You Turned the Tables on Me,” she includes the seldom-heard but excellent verse (Allen Vache’s clarinet is paramount on this cut.). The exceptional “Dance Only With Me” is from the Broadway show Say Darling and, like many of the selections, seldom recorded. Richardson gives this Comden-Green-Styne composition (which has been kept alive by cabaret singers) a sensitive Latin feel.
Interestingly, the unusual interpretation of the Jimmy Van Heusen standard “But Beautiful” was recorded in Phil and Hanna’s basement on a home recorder. That is Phil Flanigan, but on the cello (as well as his bass), harmonizing with her interesting improvised melody. It is the only cut not recorded in the Kampo Studios in NYC and is one of the most interesting of the cuts. The delightful romp through “I Get the Neck of the Chicken” is perfectly suited for Richardson’s voice and playful personality. This Loesser and McHugh tune (which is from a Lucille Ball movie, Seven Days Leave ) was popularized by Cab Calloway. Richardson chose it after finding it in a pile of old sheet music she was perusing. Pianist Keith Ingham unearthed the verse, which was not included on the original sheet. Flanigan and Richardson re-arranged some of the lyrics to avoid the more dated references, such as “I get the rumble seat ride.” But all of the original charm remains.
Richardson’s bossa rendition of the Rodgers & Hammerstein evergreen “It Might As Well Be Spring” is of special interest since she is the only singer that I know of who has successful reinvented some of those awkward intervals. Uncharacteristically, lyricist Oscar Hammerstein twice placed one word (“Might” and “Well”) under three of Richard Rodgers notes (“It Mi –i –ite as We–ee—ell be spring”) forcing the singer to use melisma, but Richardson cleverly smoothes out those awkward lines. Each song is a gem, but Richardson’s reading of the title tune by Arthur Schwartz is a perfect pairing of piano and voice and may well be the definitive version. Keith Ingham’s piano accompaniment blends perfectly with Richardson’s gentle loving reading of Howard Dietz’ romantic lyrics, weighted this side of sentimentality.
I’ve said little about the band, which is unfortunate since it is exemplary. Ken Peplowski rhapsodizes and swings, whether on clarinet or tenor sax. Pianist Keith Ingham has few equals as an accompanist (recall those many years with Susannah McCorkle) and bassist/cellist Phil Flanigan has worked with just about everybody during his career. He has a sound with depth and authenticity, something you want to reach out and touch. Flanigan, by the way, also produced this session and was very much involved in the innovative song selection. Steve Little is on the drums exhibiting rhythmic authority, the noted Allen Vache plays clarinet on some cuts and Chris Flory plays guitar. This sextet is always “in the pocket,” displaying genuine heart and swing.
Twenty-year-old single-malt Scotch, Debra Winger’s grin, farmhouses by the sea... and now Hanna Richardson’s lovely voice. Sometimes life is good. Like only the very best, Hanna, Phil and their group remind me once again why music is worth living for.
Visit Hanna and Phil on the web at www.HannaPhil.com .
Personnel: Hanna Richardson, vocals
Phil Flanigan, bass, cello
Keith Ingham, piano
Chris Flory, guitar
Steve Little, drums
Ken Peplowski, clarinet, tenor sax