Amy Steinberg – Broken Open

Amy Steinberg - Broken OpenAmy Steinberg – Broken Open
Released – February 2015

Performers are quick to tell you if they’re a “triple threat” – can sing, dance and act. A triple threat of a different bent, Amy Steinberg is a singer/songwriter, performer, choir director, and artist who works with acrylics.

A vocal artist who can channel Joni Mitchell one moment, Natalie Merchant the next, and Melissa Etheridge after that, although she names Bette Midler, Ani DiFranco, Christy Snow and George Carlin as influences. Blending spirituality and humor, or as she puts it, “…marrying the sacred and profane – fusing the dreamlike nature of spirit with the rooted realness of sexuality and humor.”

Amy SteinbergIf every song tells a story, these are handcrafted and intense stories told by a gifted storyteller, who has been to dark places and back, lived to tell that story and find the positive things from the experience. Or as she puts it, “There is always a spark that the dark can’t deny.”

Favorites here include the opener, “Burning Into The High,” along with “Sawyer’s Song,” and “Letting Go,” and I’ll be adding these three at 62ndStreet.com.

That said, the stories are so personal, that’s it’s more than likely you’ll find your own favorites among this set, which is highly recommended.

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Passages: Lesley Gore

Leslie_Gore_Batman_1967[1]Word today that 60s pop icon Lesley Gore has passed – a victim of cancer at 68.

The news came from Ms. Gore’s long-time partner, Lois Sasson.

“Discovered” by Quincy Jones as one story goes, and signed to a record deal as a teenager, she went on to record the proto-feminist “You Don’t Own Me,” in 1964.  And even after moving on to more mature material, and going public with her sexuality, she still understood that concert goers came to hear the early hits.

Full biography here.  Photo is via Wikimedia Commons, from the ABC Television Network – an undated publicity photo, in connection with her guest appearance on the “Batman” TV series.

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Szandra Szoke Quintet – Memory Palace

John Pizzarelli and Jessica MolaskeyOne of the benefits of business travel is that sometimes the evenings are free; and sometimes, someone (or in this case someones) I enjoy hearing are playing nearby.  This time, it was New York, and the someones were John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey, and the venue was Birdland – a venue to which I hadn’t yet visited.  Great venue, great show.  Made the business part of the trip easier, too.

I’ve also traveled to Budapest a couple of times on business.  If there’s a next time, I’ll be looking for this next young woman.


Sandra Szoke Quintet - Memory PalaceSzandra Szoke Quintet – Memory Palace
Released – March, 2015

It takes a certain boldness to – in the space of just over a year – begin a new musical endeavor, and to populate the debut album with all original music. That’s what Szandra Szoke has done with this first outing, and the result is a solid set of very personal lyrics and music.

Interestingly, seven of the nine tracks are in English. “Writing in English comes more naturally in this period of my life,” Ms. Szoke writes, “…than writing in Hungarian. It also helps that I am a great fan of the language. Singing in English as a Hungarian allows me to be extremely personal and somewhat protective of my deepest self at the same time.”

The liner notes call it a “…delicate, daydreaming, curious kind of music,” and indeed – this material is much more than three verses and a bridge. Ms. Szoke’s intense alto is in command of her lyrics – whether challenging (“Wool“), or wistful (“Memory Palace“). Those are two of my favorites from this album. Another is “Whitewater,” a track that reminds me very much of the stereotypical sixties jazz/poetry performances.  Those three were added to the playlist at 62ndStreet.com.

Szandra SzokeAnd if it’s a bold outing, Ms. Szoke says she feels as if she has plenty of support. “…I feel like being on a playground, everyone around me is highly skilled and extremely creative, it feels like I can do anything, because I can be sure they are there to catch me if I fall.”

That backing group includes Gabor Cseke on piano, Istvan Fekete on trumpet, Peter Olah on bass, and Cszba Pusztai on drums. Does so intensely personal music defy commercial success?

Let’s hope not. I’ll look for more from Ms. Szoke and her group. This disc is recommended.

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Lost in the holidays (for me) was the release of the new Bette Midler album, a tribute to the great girl groups of the sixties.  It’s called “It’s The Girls,” and you can easily find the YouTube promotional video, but here’s a clip from Ms. Midler’s appearance on “Live With Kelly and Michael” that’s worth a rewind.  I’ll pass on the opportunity to mention that Ms. Midler trails Paul McCartney by just a smidge in age, but judging from his appearance on the Saturday Night Live special this past weekend – she’s still got it.


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Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet – Vocal Madness

Uptown Vocal Jazz QuartetUptown Vocal Jazz Quartet –
Vocal Madness

Released – November 7, 2014

Dedicated to the late Tim Hauser, who founded the Manhattan Transfer – this east-coast based foursome joins with saxophonist Richie Cole (Lionel Hampton, Doc Severinsen, Eddie Jefferson) for a dozen cool tracks.

Ginny Carr leads the group. Her alto is joined by Andre Enceneat on Bass, soprano Holly Shockley, and tenor Robert McBride.

I’ve added Mr. Cole’s original “Bossa Nova Eyes,” along with “I Love Lucy” (yes, that Lucy), and Ms. Carr’s tribute to Eddie Jefferson, “He Was The Cat” to the playlist at 62ndStreet.com. But buy the album, and spring for the whole dozen.  And forget the old standards.  These tight harmonies and hand-crafted lyrics will have you believing they’ve been around for forever.

Highly recommended.

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