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Album Review

Kate McGarry + Keith Ganz Ensemble: What to Wear in the Dark

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Kate McGarry + Keith Ganz Ensemble: What to Wear in the Dark
Being taken for granted is the greatest tribute and worst slight to any artist. Kate McGarry has made music that brilliantly colors outside the lines since her release, Show Me (Palmetto Records) in 2003 (there was a 1992 standards release, Easy To Love (Vital Records) that is out-of-print). Her career has provided five provocatively thoughtful and inventive recordings between that release and 2018's The Subject Tonight Is Love (Binxtown Records). Listeners have come to expect something a little different from McGarry with little regard to what that really means to produce such.

A key to McGarry's success as an artist is the freshness she infuses into her music. This freshness manifests in two significant ways: first, her and her husband/guitarist, Keith Ganz's clever arrangements of tried-and-true material breathe new life into old standbys. Secondly, her choice of repertoire always provides something new and often not considered, inspiring a listening "Oh Yeah!" moment that can delight and confound in the same space.

An example of McGarry's former approach is the opening track, the 1931 Schwartz-Dietz composition, "Dancing In The Dark." Arranged by McGarry, the song sports the deft accordion playing of Gary Versace, who's talent lends a certain old world charm to the song that could have been heard in some sidewalk cafe in Eastern Europe. At least, until the dynamics swell and turn the performance into full blown jazz, featuring Versace's fractured soloing interrogating Ron Miles' tart and airy cornet. McGarry moves from forlorn to cynically coy in a matter of measures before beginning the disassembly of the coda.

Evidence of McGarry's cagey song choice lies in her selection of Steely Dan's "Barrytown" from Pretzel Logic (ABC, 1974). Arranged by McGarry, Ganz and percussionist James Shipp, the environment allows the singer to project an embuliant rock confidence that catalyzes the lyrics. Versace's organ spurs on Ganz's best Ben Monder electric fragmentation, with the two providing progressive and inventive solos that are both off-kilter and right on the mark.

The singer combines the two approaches in a postmodern reading of Simon and Garfunkel's "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)," transforming the 1960s hippie carol into a diptych of dark and light. The singer introduces the song with a shadowy and nervous preface that could have been written by Cormac McCarthy (it was actually writen by pianist Hal Galper) on an ecstasy-ketamine bender, describing a cynical slant on the musician as commodity. Once in the song proper, the band creates a buoyant and carefree mood that issues McGarry's singing right along, tethered to Ganz's swinging bass. The effect is bracing with its contrast and delivery. Yes, Kate McGarry has been taken for granted for producing unique and intelligent musical interpretations. And, that is what we expect, and gratefully, are provided for by the singer, time and time again.

Track Listing

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.

Personnel

Keith Ganz: guitar; Kate McGarry: voice / vocals; Ron Miles: cornet; Gary Versace: piano; Obed Calvaire: drums; Sean Smith: bass, acoustic; Clarence Penn: drums; Becca Stevens: voice / vocals; Erin Bentlage: voice / vocals; Michelle Willis: voice / vocals; Christian Euman: drums; James Shipp: percussion.

Album information

Title: What to Wear in the Dark | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Resilience Music Alliance

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