Thanksgiving, for many, is road-trip time—which also makes it a good time to give a listen to the latest discs from Indiana performers. Here’s a stack I’ve taken pleasure in over the past month.
Known for her top-of-the-gospel-charts song stylings and stints as occasional hostess of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s Yuletide Celebration, Sandi Patty clearly has a passion for Broadway music along with her bread-and-butter sacred tunes. The origins of her latest disc, “Broadway Stories,” can be traced back to a “Sandi Patty’s Broadway” program with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. And while she isn’t Yuletiding with the ISO this season, Patty will be back in January for a concert version of “Hello, Dolly!”
There’s no denying Patty’s vocal power. She’s got it, ably handling the technical challenges of a “Swingin’ Love” medley and having fun with a set of songs she’d never sing in a show (including “Get Me to the Church on Time”). But whether the disc goes into frequent rotation in the CD players of Broadway buffs depends on one’s tolerance for Patty’s over-the-top finishes, particularly on “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Be warned: There’s a whole field of lilies being gilded here.
That being said, Patty’s “Edelweiss” seems to have a genuine sense of place, her “All Of Me” (true, the song has nothing to do with theater) pops with Jack Everly-conducted panache, and I’ll admit to getting a kick out of a song I never thought I’d hear Patty singing—the creepy “Willkommen” from “Cabaret.”
Also in the category of eyebrow-raising singer/song match-ups: crooner Michael Feinstein and the mating-after-an-atomic-bomb novelty tune “Thirteen Women.”
Feinstein, artistic director of the Center for the Performing Arts, is in terrific voice here, but he may be accused of misrepresentation by calling his latest disc “The Sinatra Project, Vol. II: The Good Life” since most of the songs were not originally popularized by old blue eyes. But there’s a definite Sinatra style to the selection of songs. Not the sophisticated, oft-celebrated Sinatra of the ’40s and ’50s, but the chauvinist-and-so-what Sinatra that came later—the era where he seemed to change,
temporarily, from a vital, contemporary artist into a purveyor of “dad music.”
Joyfully and shamelessly digging into “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” and a pairing of “Luck Be a Lady”/“All I Need is the Girl” backed by a dynamic 30-piece orchestra, Feinstein may well win more converts with this one—if they are willing to bypass the silly, decidedly un-cool photos surrounding the liner notes. Sinatra would have shown a little more restraint.
A more original indication of an artist influenced by fellow artists comes courtesy of Carrie Newcomer, whose latest disc “Everything is Everywhere” beautifully incorporates Indian influences into her distinct folk singer/songwriter style.
The resulting set honors her collaborators (Amjad Ali Khan, Amaan Alik Khan and Ayann Alid Khan) while never denying her roots or coming across as an awkward attempt at crossing over. This is clearly a Carrie Newcomer disc—comfortable alongside the best of her work, including “Betty’s Diner” and “My Father’s Only Son”—while showing clear signs that she’s a talent who still has a lot she wants to learn.
With the beautifully crafted, sweetly sung title song finding its true fighting weight at nearly six minutes and everything else in the set clocking in at over four minutes, the disc feels both meditative and confident. At this stage in her career, it may be easier to just do more of the same. I’m glad to hear that Newcomer is still making discoveries. And I anticipate listening to this one repeatedly while also looking forward to where her journey next takes her.
Tim Grimm, who has collaborated with Newcomer in the past, pays tribute on his latest disc to another folk influence. “Thank You, Tom Paxton” makes a gentle case for the title singer/songwriter, who never quite garnered the attention of Bob Dylan, the notoriety of Phil Ochs, or the catchy cult status of Arlo Guthrie.
Even some of the once-better-known Paxton songs—“Bottle of Wine” and “Ramblin’ Boy” (both ignored on this disc)—might not generate much singing-along at a concert these days. But Paxton’s largely low-key tunes clearly had an influence on Grimm. He and a group of solid musicians, including Jason Wilber, Krista Detor and the White Lightning Boys, don’t attempt to overly transform such Paxton tunes as the melancholy “The Last Thing on My Mind”; the antic, bluegrass “General Custer”; or the charming baseball song “My Favorite Spring.” Instead, they respectfully give each tune a gentle freshening, playing up Paxton’s talents even if never quite inspiring a revisit to the original work.
Finally, the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir and the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra go on record with a double disc recording of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Elijah.” I’m not going to pretend to offer a detailed critique of the music—I’ve only given the set a single listen on a car stereo—but all involved in this 2007 live recording from Clowes Hall come across well, including popular local tenor Steven Stolen and soprano Kathleen Hacker, chairwoman of the Musical Department of the University of Indianapolis.
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