With singer/songwriter Beth McDonald
, music is intensely personal. All aspects of musicperformance, composition, arrangement, song choice and deliveryare branded with McDonald's vision. Her liner notes are full of mention of her family, motherhood and love. Her style is 1920s-1940s standards waxing nostalgic (yet still freshly modern) of the simpler, more wholesome things in life. This feeling is enhanced by her scrubbed, girl-next-door appearance and honest singing style. There is no vocal bragging here with excessive scatting and vocalese, just old and new songs well sung and played.
At Last: Love Songs And Lullabies
At Last is subtitled Love Songs and Lullabies and is presented as such. The title song is given no torch treatment (don't expect Beyonce's barn burning take). No, McDonald plants her flag in the standard and sings it like a high love ballad, buttoned down by a carefully considered rhythm section. She doubles her voice to superb effect, performing harmony with herself. Sylvia Fine's "Lullaby In Ragtime" from 1959's Five Pennies is beautifully old-fashioned while beautifully recorded with modern technology. McDonald's repertoire choice is tart and intelligent as a spring strawberry bursting in your mouth.
McDonald's song writing skills are exceptional. "Dancing With Wonder" is perfectly quaint without being hokey. This song, with Jared Denard's steady ukulele, has an oddly country flavor, not unlike Norah Jones only with more country chicken broth added. It could be sung by Faith Hill with great success. "The Way You Look Tonight" continues the trend of straight performance, reverent and honorable to the composer's original intentions. It is this detail that gives this collection its charm. McDonald takes an almost Floyd Cramer approach to the arrangement (Lou Rainone's fine piano bears this out admirably).
"Can't Help Falling In Love With You" and "What A Wonderful World" are presented in the same vein as the rest of the recording, that is with McDonald's individualistic style. Vocalists have rarely painted within the lines with such success, avoiding boring performances. McDonald closes with a bonus "You Are My Sunshine." Doubtless she has sung this song to her children.
Where At Last casts McDonald in the wholesome, motherly role, Home has her donning a bit of rouge and flaunting the vamp in a collection of fun and provocative originals and standards. Her playfully scolding "Why Don't You Do Right" and the breezy "Sway" show her stretching in positive directions. "Home," the first of four original McDonald compositions, finds the singer in a country, church choir singing mood, again with a melody and hook that would flatter the likes of Faith Hill. Duke Ellington's "I Aint Got Nothing But The Blues" gently swaggers with the boast of John Mathis and Tim Leahy's trumpets.
The disc finds firm grounding in the ballads "I've Got A Crush On You " and "Cry Me A River," with Wayne Wilentz providing the tasty piano comping that makes the performances sound so lush. Sultry takes on "Besame Mucho" (the disc's lone instrumental), "Fever" and "Temptation" slowly increase the temperature, with the last two creating a humid juggernaut for the close of the recording.
It is difficult to find fault with either of these albums save for the conservative approach applied. However, this conservatism is also the charm. Beth McDonald deserves much, much more attention and the jazz public deserves to hear much, much more of her.
Tracks and Personnel
At Last: Love Songs And Lullabies
Tracks: It Had To Be You; At Last; Lullaby In Ragtime; Dancing With Wonder; La La Lu; Longer; The Way You Look Tonight; Always; Moon Song; Can't Help Falling In Love; What A Wonderful World; Because Of You; Baby Mine; The Rainbow Connection; You Are My Sunshine.
Personnel: Beth McDonald: vocals; Lou Rainone, Wayne Wilentz: piano; Jay Miles, Tom Baldwin: bass; Alan Dale: drums; Jon Mathis: guitar, trumpet; Tim Leahy: flugelhorn; Jared Denhard: celtic harp, ukelele.
Tracks: Why Don't You Do Right; Sway; Home; I Ain't Got Nothing But The Blues; Don't Be A Baby, Baby; I've Got A Crush On You; He's A Tramp; Cry Me A River; Would You Dare; Besame Mucho; It Would Be So Easy; Fever; Goody Goody; Second Guessing; Temptation; Waitin' For The Train To Come In; Don't Ever Leave Me.
Personnel: Beth McDonald: vocals; Luo Rainoe, Wayne Wilentz: piano; Jay Miles, Tom Baldwin: bass; Alan Dale: drums; Jon Mathis: guitar, trumpet; Tim Leahy: flugelhorn; Jared Denhard: celtic harp.