There's a whole lot of nonsense in Vocal Land these days, since it's so easy for the earnest but talent-challenged to produce a CD and hire a publicist. There are occasional gems in the mud, for sure, but the field is crowded with wannabes. And the majors don't help when they push faux sexuality, or turn happy songs into dirges and try to sell that as "depth.
Into this climate of cynical manipulation comes Kate McGarry's third CD, The Target, and it's a blessed relief. When McGarry sings, you hear not only a distinctively sweet, flexible, and textured voice, but a generous spirit, open heart, and searching intelligence. Her top-drawer band plays with equal creativity and care, and together they freshen a wide variety of tunes, from Miles to Sting to show tunes and standards. The originals are philosophical as well as catchy, but there's no sermon here, not with all this humor and playfulness. Instead, there's a true celebration of the range of human experience, and not a gram of nonsense to be found.
This CD's positive message rides in on unusually splendid music. Gary Versace is equally eloquent on organ, piano, and accordionwhich he plays far closer to the bandoleon than the polkaand McGarry and husband/guitarist Keith Ganz sound like two halves of the same brain. Bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Greg Hutchinson are consistently tasteful and right, while Donny McCaslin's tenor pours gritty honey over three tracks, adding just enough edge to the proceedings.
The Target is also thoughtfully sequenced to enhance the appreciation of each song. For example, the subtle sensuality of "The Lamp is Low" provides an intriguing contrast with the bawdy fun that follows it ("Do Something"); then things quiet down with "She Always Will," which encourages us to consider the deeper meaning of it all.
Like most vocal CDs, this one describes a range of love, but it deliberately leaves us with hopeit opens with love's loss (the clever "Meaning of the Blues") and ends with love's tender beginning (the charming "New Love Song," written for McGarry by Ganz). On the way, McGarry swings Luciana Souza's "No Wonder," revels in "Nobody Else But Me," enriches the classic "Blue in Green" with lyrical wisdom, and finds new colors in "It Might as Well Be Spring." It should also be noted that McGarry's take on "The Heather on the Hill," with Versace's psychic accompaniment, is one of the most intimate and beautiful ballads I've ever heard.
It's a rare pleasure to write this kind of review; the only problem is knowing when to stop. By now it should be clear that The Target is a very special CD from an artist who grows with every new project: Kate McGarry's talent is unique and powerful, and it's blossoming. Enjoy!
Personnel: Kate McGarry: voice; Keith Ganz: guitars; Gary Versace: organ, piano, accordion; Reuben Rogers: bass; Greg Hutchinson: drums; Donny McCaslin: tenor sax (6, 9, 11); Theo Bleckmann: voice loops, effects (6).