I’ve written before about those songs that seem so familiar, you’re sure you’re heard them before – that they’re already part of what we call the “American Songbook.” And yet…well, maybe you just haven’t heard it in a while. In my case, it makes me crazy enough to start thumbing through Googled webpages, only to discover that this tune isn’t a classic.
Thisbe Vos – Sophistication
Released – September 16, 2011
A light touch that’s both familiar and new – Thisbe Vos’ new “Sophistication” album is full of surprises.
The thirty-something Ms. Vos, a Netherlands native, but Los Angeles resident has been singing professionally since she was seventeen – with both solo stints, and as a vocalist with the UK-based “Jive Aces” swing band. She’s dialed it back considerably for this set of a dozen tunes – half you’ll recognize right away, and the other half, you may only think you’ve heard before.
Like, for instance, the title track, “House Of Make Believe,” the tongue-in-cheek search for the perfect guy: “There is a man | He’s warm and tender | He’s not too tall | He’s not too slender | And he’s the warmest, kindest, sweetest man of all | In my house of make believe.”
Ms. Vos says, “I have been listening to ‘The Man I Love’ every so often for many years, and…I thought it would be cool to write a song with that same emotional concept where the singer is daydreaming about meeting her ideal lover one day. (And I also love the way Ella Fitzgerald sings that song.) I had also, some years before, come across a costume rental business in Florida called “House of Make Believe” and I thought that that would make a great lyric in a song.”
It’s my theory that the classics come not only from a good hook, but a universal concept that’s ultra-accesible, and I think this one fits the bill. Of course, time makes classics. But “instant classics” like this one make heavy rotation on my personal playlist for some time to come.
As for songwriting generally, Ms. Vos says, “The main lyrical concept usually comes first and inspires the melody, but not always. One time I was in China and I wrote a song based on the pronunciation of the name of a temple. It struck me how the word (three syllables) had a very specific intonation, and you had to say it that way otherwise people would not understand it. I ended up writing a whole song off of those three sounds.”
Fuel for the next album, she says. And if I’m smitten with her songwriting, there’s also plenty to like in her vocal style. Gently swingy, with enough sass to command attention. Surrounded by a group of west coast veterans – Gary Matsumoto and Larry Flahive on piano, Henry Franklin on bass, drums by Donald Dean, Nolan Shaheed on trumpet, George Harper on sax, and Geoff Nudell on clarinet.
One to watch, this Ms. Vos. “Sophistication” is very highly recommended.
Speaking of Dutch singers, Mariska Veres would have celebrated her 64th birthday this past week. If you don’t know who she is, you may well know her group, and their one US hit. The group was “Shocking Blue,” and their only song to crack the US Top 40 was 1969’s “Venus.”