Let us start with a nod to Steely Dan, the rock/jazz group headed up by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, a pair of tunesmiths who hit a career zenith in the early 1970s with albums like Can't Buy A Thrill
(1972), Countdown To Ecstasy
(1973), Pretzel Logic
(1974) and Aja
(1974), all on ABC Records. The group drew in top jazz artists to help craft their albumssaxophonists Wayne Shorter
and Tom Scott
, guitarists Larry Carlton
and Lee Ritenour
, drummers Steve Gadd
and Rick Marottashaping high-polish productions featuring catchy melodies and cerebral lyrics to form up their pop/rock artistry.
Taking a tangent off from this digression we run into vocalist Kate McGarry's What To Wear In the Dark
. Comparisons to Steely Dan? Beautiful production, meticulous arrangements and a bunch of top notch jazz playersGary Versace
on keyboards, Ron Miles
on cornet, Clarence Penn
on drums, Keith Ganz
of the Keith Ganz Ensemble on guitars creating the backdrops for McGarry's pure-toned everywoman deliveries on tunes mostly familiar, shaped into often unconventional readings of (again, mostly) pop/rock tunes of the 1960s and 1970s.
McGarry offers up her distinctive take on Steely Dan's "Barrytown," Paul Simon's "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)," The Eagles' "Desperado" and George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun." She picks her composers well, opening with the one Great American Songbook tune of the set, "Dancing in The Dark," featuring a spare arrangement with Gary Versace's sighing accordion playing prominently in the mix.
McGarry has the rare ability to deliver a tune with remarkable immediacylike she is singing it just for you. She sings "Barrytown" with a bounce in her step, with a hopeful self assurance, a clear-eyed aplomb. On Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" McGarry's delivery is angelic, the harp (actually Keith Ganz' acoustic guitar) in a perfect, heavenly simpatico with the singer's inward-looking vocal.
Then there is "Life, I love you," a line from Paul Simon's "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)." It is one of Simon's happiest tunes. McGarry opens with a minute long, rapid fire rant (penned by pianist Hal Galper
) about the travails of the working jazz artist, backed by Ron Miles' scratchy cornet complaint, before shifting into the simple melody in which she sings that "Life, I love you," line, drawing, apparently, on the balm the tune served up for her during difficult times.
The set wraps up with "It Happens All The Time In Heaven," penned in part by McGarry, from "The Subject Tonight Is Love" by poet Daniel Ladinsky. Again, she sings just for you, with a beautifully spare and crisp arrangement featuring Versace on organ and Ganz on acoustic guitar, closing up a masterfully-produced, highlight-filled recording.
Dancing In The Dark; Barrytown; Both Sides Now; God Moves on the City; 59th St Bridge Song (w/intro from
Hal Galper's A Touring Musician); Desperado; Anthem; On The Road to Find Out; Here Comes The Sun; It
Happens All The Time In Heaven.