It's been 30 years since Gill Manly began singing jazz standards around the clubs and bars of London, after a few years honing her skills in West End musicals and fringe theatre. She has garnered much praise during that time, working with fellow singers Mark Murphy and Ian Shaw, among others. The Lies Of Handsome Men is only her third albuma decade-long absence from the music business between her debut, Detour Ahead (Parrott Records, 1995), and With A Song In My Heart (Linn Records, 2009) may go some way to explaining the scarcity. The beauty of Manly's voice and the relationship between that voice and Simon Wallace's piano across these 15 songs leads to a fervent hope that such scarcity is at an end.
Wallace, who was lyricist Fran Landesman's long-term songwriting collaborator, is a sensitive and unselfish accompanist who also produced this album. All of these songs are Manly's personal favorites, selected from her "personal treasure trove." Manly delivers the lyrics with such emotion and honesty that it's easy to believe that these songs are autobiographical, even with the knowledge that someone else wrote them all. Of course, some of these narratives may well touch on Manly's personal experiencesshe describes Francesca Blumenthal's title track as "a tongue-in-cheek biographical nod to my past"but even when she sings standards like "Witchcraft" or "Charade," she brings an individuality to each song.
Guest singer/pianist Buddy Greco joins Manly for Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen's "Second Time Around." It's not really a duetManly sings the first half of the song, Greco the secondbut Greco's piano playing is stylish and, while his voice lacks the strength of past years, his phrasing remains strong.
In such sterling musical company a couple of songsTears For Fears' rather portentous "Mad World" and Rod McKuen's "A Single Woman"are less impressive, despite the quality of Manly's vocals. But never fear, for the highlights are many: Oliver Nelson and Mark Murphy's soulful "Stolen Moments," Landesman's lovely "Before Love Went Out Of Style" (with music by Dudley Moore) and the world-weary grace of John Scott and Caryl Brahms' "Woman Talk" are all standout performances.
The finest performance of all is Manly's interpretation of Dmitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington's "Wild Is The Wind." Wallace's accompaniment is spacious and considered; a perfect foundation for Manly's restrained yet heartfelt vocal. It's a striking example of "less is more," and it just might be the benchmark interpretation of this great song.
The Lies Of Handsome Men; Peel Me A Grape; Before Love Went Out Of Style; Witchcraft; Windmills Of Your Mind; Stolen Moments; Mad World; Woman Talk; Charade; A Single Woman; Second Time Around; Wild Is The Wind; Go Away Little Boy; How Insensitive; Not Like This.
Gill Manly: vocals; Simon Wallace: piano; Buddy Greco: piano and vocals (11).
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