There are singers with beautiful voices, those with perfect pitch who produce gorgeous sounds. There are singers who boast enormous ranges, belting powerful high Cs and beyond. There are singers who are also great actors, bringing a mix of high emotion to each and every song. And, then, there was Nancy LaMott.
Yes, LaMott possessed a beautiful voice: a rich, lush, rounded, honey-toned sound that could be soft, sweet and creamy one minute and big and brassy the next. She also had an incredible range, belting Cs, Ds and E flats with the best of 'em. And, she certainly acted her songs exquisitely, bringing a lyric to life as honestly as possible. Yet, there was something more to this woman, who was the finest vocalist the cabaret world produced in the last several decades.
LaMott, who died of cancer in 1995, had the remarkable ability to find the emotional center of any song she performed and often delivered what would become the definitive version of that song. Anyone who heard her renditions of "Moon River," "So in Love," "Blues Skies," to name but a few, would not argue that statement: LaMott somehow seemed to become the song she was singing.
After an eight-year wait, a "new" recording from the late singer will be issued on the Midder Music label: Featuring expert arrangements and musical direction by Christopher Marlowe, "Nancy LaMott—Live at Tavern on the Green" is set to hit stores around the country Feb. 1. That date also marks the re-release of five previous LaMott recordings, all on the Midder label: her debut disc, "Beautiful Baby" (a great introduction to LaMott that features "Skylark," "The Child in Me" and her signature tune, "Help Is On the Way"); her tribute to the lyrics of Johnny Mercer, "Come Rain or Come Shine" ("Moon River" is the song I often play first for those who have never heard LaMott); her collection of romantic songs, "My Foolish Heart" (LaMott's striking medley of Sondheim's "Not a Day Goes By" and "Good Thing Going" make this recording a must); her breakthrough recording, "Listen to My Heart," which boasts orchestrations by Peter Matz; and the posthumously released "What's Good About Goodbye?" (who'd have thought anyone could bring new life to the Petula Clark hit "Downtown"?). What sets the new recording apart from LaMott's previous discs, however, is the fact that it was recorded live in front of an audience — where the singer truly came to life, blossoming most fully. (That said, her studio recordings are among my favorite vocal recitals.) There is also one other major difference between this and previous LaMott discs. At the very end of her life, the 43-year-old performer had finally found true love, and her song choices, delivery and in-between patter during this Tavern on the Green engagement (directed by Scott Barnes) were all influenced by this blessed occurrence. Towards the end of the act, LaMott even jokes, "Well, we've come to the part of the show that normally I do a just gut-wrenching, slit your-wrist ballad, only I'm not going to do that this evening. I know, I know, you're all disappointed, but 'ya know, you grow, you change. I thought I would try something a little more positive." She then proceeds to deliver a heartfelt version of Alan and Marilyn Bergman and David Shire's "The Promise," and her exquisite delivery demonstrates that LaMott, whether singing songs of love lost or love found, was equally riveting.
Like so many of her concerts, LaMott begins her evening with one of her signature tunes, David Friedman's "Listen to My Heart," and she imbues the rousing ballad with a palpable sense of joy as she exclaims, "I've waited all my life for this one moment. I'm not waiting anymore!" She also brings a heartbreaking tenderness to Rodgers and Hart's "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," and her renditions of "How Deep Is the Ocean," "Help Is On the Way" and "Secret O' Life" are more poignant than ever. But it's not at all a sad or depressing disc; in fact, LaMott seems to be riding high on clouds of love and music, having fun with a version of Johnny Mercer's "Jeepers Creepers" set against a variation of "Bach's Prelude #11 in F" and a wonderful, belty arrangement of Irving Berlin's "I Got the Sun in the Morning" that illustrates the amazing control she had of her vocal instrument. The live recording also shows the power LaMott had to take a song one may have heard and enjoyed previously (witness her version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Waters of March") or one the listener has never been introduced to (Rupert Holmes' "The People That You Never Get to Love") and turn them both into new favorites.
And, I've saved my favorite track of the recording for last: Alan Menken and Dean Pitchford's "Sailin' On [My Dreams]." It's a song that holds a special place in my heart, one I've loved for nearly two decades, and now — like so many other LaMott interpretations — I've finally found the ultimate version. It's a touching, joyous, yet ultimately wistful rendition, and midway through the song, LaMott produces the most beautiful, ethereal tone as she sings, "The north wind took me to God know where. Oceans uncharted drunk with salt aiiiiiirrrrrr." Perhaps, with just seven weeks left of her life, LaMott was subconsciously auditioning for the lead spot in a choir of angels. I'd like to think that after a life spent battling Crohn's disease and cancer, she's now singing in a much better place.
"Nancy LaMott: Live at Tavern on the Green" is the first recording I received in 2005. Yet, I know it is the one I will treasure most, no matter what else the new year brings.
[Produced by David Friedman, "Nancy LaMott—Live at Tavern on the Green" features Christopher Marlowe on piano, Steve LaSpina on bass and John Redsecker on drums. For more information, visit Click Here.]
Despite a bout with the flu that forced the cancellation of her Jan. 6 concert, four-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald seemed in high gear at her Jan. 8 concert at the Time Warner Center's new Rose Theatre. McDonald's concerts marked the opening of the seventh season of Lincoln Center's acclaimed American Songbook series, and the four time Tony Award winner ventured into somewhat new territory for her Songbook weekend, exploring the works of more contemporary writers like Randy Newman, Rufus Wainwright, John Mayer and Elvis Costello. However, she also included tunes from several of the composers she has championed throughout her career: Michael John LaChiusa, Ricky Ian Gordon and Adam Guettel. McDonald, who sipped Gatorade throughout the intermissionless 90-minute concert, was backed by a ten-piece band that featured musical director Ted Sperling on piano. Among the songs she interpreted were "When Lola Sings," a tune Michael John LaChiusa wrote especially for the occasion; Randy Newman's "Last Night I Had a Dream" and "I Think It's Going to Rain Today"; Rufus Wainwright's "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" and "Damned Ladies"; Adam Guettel's "Life Is But a Dream"; Jane Kelly Williams' "Wonderful You"; John Mayer's "My Stupid Mouth"; Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach's "God Give Me Strength"; Nellie McKay's "I Wanna Get Married"; Jonathan Larson's "Hosing the Furniture"; Jessica Molaskey and Ricky Ian Gordon's "Cradle and All"; Stevie Wonder's "Happier than the Morning Sun"; Dan Lipton's "Where Would I Be Now"; Joe Raposo's "Bein' Green"; and Laura Nyro's "Tom Cat Goodbye." At Saturday evening's performance, McDonald returned for two encores: a glorious version of Bock and Harnick's "When Did I Fall in Love?" and an unmiked version of John Bucchino's "It Feels Like Home" that she sang in honor of the beautiful new theatre space.
Ute Lemper, who made her Broadway debut in Chicago, premieres her new cabaret act at New York's Café Carlyle tonight (Jan. 14). Entitled Blood & Feathers, the concerts will be presented at the posh nightspot through Feb. 26. About her new show, Lemper recently said, "[Audiences] should prepare to be taken on a ride through the joints of Berlin, Paris and New York to catch the spirits of poets and provocateurs, to hear stories between war and peace, to move from temptation to serenity, all decorated with blood and feathers!" Lemper also added, "Pirate Jenny will meet Edith Piaf and both will tell stories of lost love, betrayal, politics and revenge in the year 2005 — the scene is New York, the club is glamorous, but the stories are true!" Cabaretgoers can expect to hear works by Weill, Brecht, Hollaender, Brel, Prevert, Sondheim and Kander and Ebb. Lemper will offer a few of her own compositions as well. Cafe Carlyle is located within the Carlyle Hotel at Madison Avenue and 76th Street. For reservations call (212) 570-7189; visit www.thecarlyle.com for more information.
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to [email protected]