Chaise Lounge – Insomnia

Trying to get the decks cleared before the next overseas trip.  Much to write about, and much to load onto the ‘pod for that 14-hour Pacific flight.

Chaise Lounge – Insomnia
(Modern Songbook)

Released – April 2012

This is a unique group of musicians – hell, they had me at the quote from Mr. Barnett – “We wear suits—it’s a stylish damn band.”  From somewhere between Washington (the right coast one) and Baltimore, the sextet describes themselves as fresh out of a 1962 recording studio.  Not just any recording studio, but the famed Capitol Recording Studios.

If you’re going to make the comparison, make it a good one.

Luckily, the band lives up to its hype on this disc of a dozen tunes – nine originals, plus Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Bali Ha’i,” Arlen and Harburg’s “If I Only Had A Brain,” and a version of “Ode to Billie Jo” that matches the band’s Marilyn Older channeling Bobbie Gentry’s voice.  Except imagine Blood, Sweat and Tears as the backing band.

The words and music for the originals come from Charlie Barnett, with a list of 50 credits as a film composer.  He’s able to craft lyrics (“Houdini”) like, “I need a man, not a magician | I’ve got the keys in the ignition.”

But it’s the skill of Ms. Older, whose charm comes from being able to throw off Mr. Barnett’s lyrical punchlines with the charm of a gifted straight man.  Feisty, but familiar, she’s everywoman, with great lines like “The truth is you’ll be bummin’ | cause you’ll never see it comin’ | I’m going to ruin your day.”

And that’s from probably my favorite track on the disc – the bonus track – the unlisted “I’m Going To Ruin Your Day,” which apparently isn’t available as a download, only on the physical CD.

Of it, Mr. Barnett says, “I just loved the idea of writing a waltz, not even a particularly hip jazz waltz, but an old-fashioned lovey-dovey-style waltz, and having it contain a lyric of true spitefulness. In the space at top of the score, to the left—where a composer usually writes something like “andante” or “slowly, with feeling” — I wrote ‘peevish.’”

And Ms. Older plays it beautifully.  Her charm comes from her style, warm and simple, able to handle not just peevish, but also the blues and a romantic ballad with class.  No wonder she was nominated as one of Washington DC’s best jazz vocalists.

Yes, it is.  In addition to Ms. Older, Mr. Barnett on Guitar and piano, Tommy Barrick on Drums, Gary Gregg on sax, clarinet and flute, John Jensen on trombone, and Pete Ostle on bass and tuba.

Class act, this.  Very highly recommended.


Norah Jones’ new CD is “Little Broken Hearts,” and while her fans will snap it up, all of the tracks started to run together for me after a while.  That said, the apparent radio hit, “Happy Pills,” is the standout of the bunch, and another track, “4 Broken Hearts” is also worthy of a current mix.

Here’s the official “Happy Pills” video.

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Karen Johns and Company – Peach

Karen Johns & Company – Peach
(Ptarmigan Music/Jazz)

Released – January 2012

Not long ago, running an old playlist on the ‘pod, Karen Johns came up.

Ms. Johns is a very talented singer/songwriter who makes her home in suburban Nashville. The song was “Carry Me Away,” an original from her 2008 album, “Star and Season.” I listened with new ears, and liked it even more than I did in 2008…and I liked it a lot back then.

As serendipity seems to go – that same week a copy of Ms. Johns’ newest album, “Peach,” landed on the desk.

The forumla that works for my old top-40 ears is some sort of universal condition, one in which any of us can imagine ourselves, and a good hook – that’s the memorable earworm that sticks with you. It’s harder than it sounds.

Ms. Johns gets this, from the opening track – “Sugarboo” – the title itself is an earworm, evoking a breezy trip in a convertable with one’s sweetie – to the more melancholy “I Speak Woman, You Speak Man.”

Ms. Johns’ talent isn’t limited to the pen, though. None of this would work without her creamy and supple alto, and the “Company,” the backing band – James Johns on guitar, Kevin Sanders on keyboards, Chris Kozak on bass, Michael Glaser on percussion, Jim Hoke on reeds and harmonica (nice touch on “Sentimentale,”) and Ken Watters on trumpet.

Mix in some off the beaten track standards – two in Italian, and one (Nancy Wilson’s “How Glad I Am”) that’s one of my all-time favorites – and well, this one will be in heavy rotation for some time to come.

Very highly recommended.


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The Mantini Sisters – Pretty World

If you’re an artist who has a website, or if you’re contemplating a website, please don’t auto-start your music. Put a big “Listen Now” button on the front page, or something. But don’t auto-start the music, okay? Don’t let “marketers” talk you into it.

I’m in marketing. It’s annoying.

Why annoy those who seek you out?

Mantini Sisters – Pretty World
Released – April 13, 2012

For me, sororal harmony doesn’t get much better than the Mantini Sisters. Their latest recording, “Pretty World,” is a collection of ten tunes, about which Barbara Mantini says, “We wanted to record songs we grew up with and loved, but give it our own…flavour.”

The ten are all Top-40 hits that pretty much span the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies, with maybe an outlier or two.

Backing is more than ample – most tracks from a full-sounding Mark Lalama Orchestra. But it’s the sisters who are out front here. They’ve been doing this for nearly 30 years, and they’ve got it down. These ten form the basis of their newest stage show, one of several they’ve been performing all over the Toronto-Niagra region of Canada and the US for a while.

The Mantinis take the title track – made memorable by Sergio Mendes, Lani Hall and Karen Phillip – into a direction both fresher and sweeter than the original. Other favorites of mine include 1969′s “More Today Than Yesterday,” and Ann Mantini’s version of the 1974 Eurovision winner, “Eres Tu.” The Crosby, Stills & Nash tune “Teach Your Children” and Paul Simon’s “59th Street Bridge Song” will be getting the radio push.

Buttoned down, tight, and shimmery, this must be a heckuva show in person, because I had to take the disc into the big room with the big speakers to do this album justice.

This disc is very highly recommended.


“Sororal?”  Oh, go look it up.


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Maud Hixson – “Cottontail” and “Bittersweet”

Maud Hixson – Singles:
“Cottontail” and “Bittersweet”
Released – January, 2012

I keep saying that one of these days I need to take a trip to Minneapolis/St. Paul – if for no other reason than to soak up some of the great vocal music that Twin Cities women are creating.  One of the women who caused me to pay attention in the first place was Maud Hixson, who knows how to stay top of mind by simply staying in touch sometimes, just for the heck of it, dropping a postcard on a trip to New Orleans, or a “what do you think?” demo now and then.

This time, it’s a pair of singles.  Duke Ellington’s “Cottontail,” with vocalese lyrics by Jon Hendricks, and Billy Strayhorn’s “The Ballad For Very Tired And Very Sad Lotus Eaters,” re-imagined with lyrics by Roger Schore, titled “Bittersweet.”

“Cottontail” puts the pedal down, and Ms. Hixson stays on top of the ride for three minutes of breakneck fun.  The cold ending left me agape, and in stitches.  She’s not only at home with the genre, but makes it her own.

“Bittersweet” is the polar opposite – a lyrical ballad Ms. Hixson makes as melancholy as the title, wistful and sublime.  Her long-time collaborator, Rick Carlson gets noticed by me mostly for staying out of the way and framing that voice – that pure and lovely voice – perfectly.  Steve Pikal on bass and Jendeen Forberg on drums round out the backing trio.

Available at all the usual digital music venues, and at Ms. Hixson’s website.

I often talk about taking a chance on new music.  There’s no risk here.  It’s two bucks, a sure bet, and very highly recommended.


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