Lyn Stanley Serves Standards Superbly Sung
Listening to newcomer Lyn Stanley's daring double LP I found myself wondering if I was listening to a jazz album or one that would be best described as cabaret—not that it ultimately matters. I just want to accurately describe it here. By "newcomer" I don't mean she's a kid. Stanley's vocal career took off a few years ago but that's another story best told elsewhere.
However you hear it, Ms. Stanley and the album are welcome throwbacks to the era of high concept album-making and gutsy, on-mic performance purity.
The album title and cover photo are sly. "Lost in Romance" as in "romantic loser"? Or. as in the more pleasurable interpretation? The 1940's-style cover photo of a heavily made-up Ms. Stanley sitting atop a piano and looking away forlornly, or regretfully makes you think "romantic loser". But open the gatefold jacket or look at the back cover and there’s a smiling, joyful Stanley in one case singing into the microphone and in the other looking up at an image of her ballroom dancing which is another of her talents.
Not coincidentally the fifteen song album begins with “Change Partners” a non-metaphorical Irving Berlin tune introduced by Fred Astaire in the 1933 film “Carefree” and concludes with the Sammy Cahn, James van Huesen chestnut “The Last Dance”, which find the protagonist happily in the arms of her lover.
While annotator Don Heckman finds the opener “an optimistic rendering”, to me, it doesn’t sound that way. When I look at the cover photo and hear Ms. Stanley sing:
Must you dance every dance with the same fortunate man?
You have danced with him since the music began.
Won't you change partners and dance with me?
Must you dance quite so close with your lips touching his face?
Can't you see I'm longing to be in his place?
Won't you change partners and dance with me?
It smacks of desperation not optimism! But that’s just me. Sure it ends with her singing:
Won't you change partners and then,
You may never want to change partners again
But how many of us have been in that place, saying that knowing it ain’t gonna happen!
In between, the song choices are a mix of oft-covered numbers from “The Great American Songbook”, Broadway and a few contemporary tunes that I don’t think best display Ms. Stanley’s considerable interpretive talents.
The ballads like “The Nearness of You”, “You Go To My Head,” “My Foolish Heart” and “One For My Baby” work the best. They are ones around which Ms. Stanley can really wrap her voice and exert her phrasing excellence.
The sly, mid-tempo “Too Close For Comfort” allows Stanley to show that she can also swing freely, push out the power and then deftly draw it back. For me, it’s one of the album’s vocal showcases.
Stanley has a blast with the mischievous “What Am I Going to Do With a Bad Boy Like you?”, a new tune by 90+ year old Ruth Gibson and Pat Rizzo.
May 7th Stanley will be playing New York’s Metropolitan Room accompanied by a trio led by pianist Mike Renzi who’s worked with Peggy Lee, Mel Tormé and Tony Bennett and I can just see her picking on a guy at a ringside table (if the “jazz cabaret” room has them) and aiming the song at him.
Stanley channels her inner Bette Midler/Mae West on a tune that’s got at least some borscht belt DNA. She ends it by saying she’ll turn into a man a “bad, bad boy like you” and you’ll know when you hear it that she means it—and what she means!
I less want to hear Willie Dixon’s salacious “I Just Want to Make Love to You” turned white-bread or a cover of George Harrison’s “Something”, but that’s just me.
Stanley’s proper pronunciation and clear diction as when she sings “I don’t know, no I don’t know” or “you’d better believe and how!” come across as too “lounge-y” for my rock sensibilities. I hear Bill Murray lurking.
She moves from there to the finale and again she’s 100% in her element to navigate a perfect landing on this impressive in every way debut.
The small ensemble piano, bass, drum arrangements augmented by guitar, brass and reeds are models of classic clarity that manage to not get in Stanley’s way, while providing their own independent listening pleasures.
As for the album’s sonics, let’s start with how Stanley’s voice is recorded, or better, how she allowed her voice to be recorded, or better yet how she obviously insisted upon how her voice be recorded and that is directly and at close range into the microphone and from there to the mix without “a net” of a lot of reverb or any other kind of signal processing that can cover for less than perfect intonation and phrasing.
That is why I called this album “daring”. Stanley gets in front of the microphone and you hear it all up close and very personal. From that intimate setting, like a figure skater going for the Gold, she takes chance upon chance, letting it all hang out and every time landing solidly on her feet.
You will not hear a more naturally recorded female voice than you’ll hear on the record. At least I haven’t, which is made all the more amazing considering its high resolution Pro Tools origin. The same goes for the instrumental tracks.
If Pro Tools can sound this three dimensional, this texturally solid and this “non-digital”, does that mean that most Pro Tools recordings, which sound so awful (and they do) result from inept engineering and mixing? What other explanation can there be? Stanley’s next recorded project will be to analog tape so the comparison will be interesting.
Meanwhile, I don’t care what’s in your record collection, this one will head near or to the top as among the best sounding in your collection. Lost In Romance is one album where the outstanding sound is matched by the music making. I’m not saying if you are a metal-rocker Lyn Stanley is going to convert you to jazz-cabaret, but maybe.
Given the pristine recording, the ideal mix by the great Al Schmitt at Capitol Studios, the mastering by Bernie Grundman (with Lyn Stanley), the gatefold packaging and numbered, limited edition, double 45rpm 180g Pallas pressing (the album’s also available as a DSD download), it’s clear Stanley is bidding for a home in the female vocalist-friendly “audiophile” market. Mission accomplished (high resolution sample file posting here shortly).