It is with a profound sense of relief that this particular Grinch is happy to report that the music review you’re reading is NOT about a holiday album. Not that there’s anything wrong with holiday music – I’m not that much of a Grinch – but I’ve reviewed several recently, and it’s always nice to find something new, in this case Stacey Kent’s latest album, Breakfast On The Morning Tram.
Folks, Stacey Kent is the real thing. Immensely talented, loved by her fans and respected by pros, her distinctive voice and style have set her apart from the crowded ranks of female vocalists. For the past decade or so, she’s been one of the best around and her many awards and chart appearances are all well-deserved.
I’ll confess that I arrived a little late to Stacey’s party. I first stumbled onto her a few years back when I happened to catch her version of Mancini’s “Dreamsville,” from her album of the same name. I thought at first that it was just a very nice instrumental version of one of my favorite tunes, because the first two minutes are just that. But then a unique, intoxicating voice took over and I was an instant fan.
Stacey has consistently hit the Billboard charts with albums that were mostly filled with her tasty interpretations of jazz standards, but for her first release on the Blue Note label she decided to try something a little different. (Although she included a few standards too, but more later about that.)
Teaming up with her usual collaborator – her husband, talented saxman Jim Tomlinson – and some new musicians, including respected guitarist John Parricelli, Stacey also took an unusual additional step. She convinced award-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro to try his hand at writing lyrics for some of Jim’s compositions. (Ishiguro is a friend, and had previously written some album notes for Stacey.)
The success of the combination is demonstrated by several of the tracks on the album, including the very first, “The Ice Hotel,” with Stacey delightfully inviting us to accompany her on her journey. The fledging songwriting duo also did a good job with a couple of other “moving” songs — the title track of the album, and “I Wish I Could Go Traveling Again.”
There are some unexpected inclusions here, and they help add to the overall diversity of the album mix. A song written by Stevie Nicks, “Landslide,” is reinterpreted by Stacey to great effect, and I think even Fleetwood Mac’s fans would approve. Another of my favorites was “Samba Saravah,” a Baden Powell tune that was used in the 1966 French film, A Man And A Woman. It’s one of three songs that Stacey sings in French, a natural skill for the artist since she’s spent many years in Europe.
And finally, for her veteran fans she’s thrown in a few jazz standards, including among them “Hard-Hearted Hannah,” and a song that’s pretty much been owned for years by Louis Armstrong, “What A Wonderful World.” Parricelli’s outstanding guitar work combined with Stacey’s warm voice and elegant phrasing gives us a new perspective on the song, and it was probably my favorite cut on the album. Somehow, I think Satchmo would have enjoyed it too.
1. The Ice Hotel
3. Ces Petits Riens
4. I Wish I Could Go Traveling Again
5. So Many Stars
6. Samba Saravah
7. Breakfast on the Morning Tram
8. Never Let Me Go
9. So Romantic
10. Hard-Hearted Hannah
11. La Saison des Pluies
12. What a Wonderful World
(Clips available at Amazon link or here.)