Vocalist Susan Krebs and her musical friends have been putting together thematically-programmed salon concerts in living rooms and small venues for a number of years. Out of that experience comes Simple Gifts, a salon sampler of sorts that gives the at-home listener a taste of the ideas and arrangements that came about through these performances.
The first two pieces on the album"Let's Call A Heart A Heart" and "Looking Back"originally fell under the banner of Cardiology: Heart Matters. The former, despite the presence of Rob Lockart's bass clarinet and some faux drum set work from percussionist Scott Breadman, is wanting for a bit more ballast. The latter, however, isn't missing a thing, as pensive beauty shines through. Next, Krebs and company visit "So Many Stars," which came about as part of an Out Of This World-themed concert. Lockart's soprano saxophone, gently undulating hints of a Brazilian groove, and well-balanced delivery from Krebs help to make this one a standout.
Krebs and company continue with "Once Upon A Summertime," which suffers at times from slight vocal overstatement and theatricality; a chilling-turned-magical take on Steve Swallow's "Falling Grace," which proves to be another album highlight; an alluring "Throw It Away" that balances Paul Cartwright's soaring string work against Lockart's bass clarinet; and a take on "For All We Know" that sounds off-kilter at first, but ends up being endearing. The album then comes to its end with the title track, a traditional Shaker song enlivened by some bluesy piano soloing, hoedown string work, and more.
Not everything works to perfection here, but inventive arrangements and concepts always carry risks. When the stars do happen to align for The Susan Krebs Chamber Band, there's magic to be heard.
Let's Call A Heart; Looking Back; So Many Stars; Once Upon A Summertime; Falling Grace; Throw It Away; For All We Know; Simple Gifts.
Susan Krebs: vocals; Rich Eames: piano; Rob Lockart: woodwinds; Scott Breadman: percussion; Paul Cartwright: violin, viola.
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