The first Five Star release of 2018…

Kate McGarry, Keith Ganz, & Gary Versace – The Subject Tonight is Love – Binxtown Records – 61:09 – *****:

(Kate McGarry – vocals, piano; Keith Ganz – acoustic and electric guitars, acoustic bass guitar; Gary Versace – piano, keyboard, organ, accordion; Special Guests: Ron Miles – trumpet, Obed Calvaire – drums)

The new CD from the trio of vocalist, Kate McGarry, guitarist, Keith Ganz, and multi-instrumentalist, Gary Versace, earns a solid five stars. It’s theme, the eternal exploration of love has been a subject that has controlled our interactions, both in  connecting with partners, and keeping our focus on the most positive of emotions in a world fraught with more damaging human behaviors.

The trio casts a wide net for their search, including folk, pop, and jazz genres. Many vocal driven trio recordings place their primary focus on the lead vocalist with a piano providing melody and mood accents. This is not the case here, with McGarry’s husband, Keith Ganz, on a variety of guitars and bass; and Gary Versace, on a multiple format of keyboards, both fully involved on every track, and equally important as a team member.

McGarry’s vocal talents are intoxicating, having a mixture of vulnerability, sensitivity, and a strutting sass when needed. She can take well worn classics like “My Funny Valentine,” “Gone With the Wind,” and “What a Difference a Day Made” (combined in a medley with “Mr. Sparkle”), both sound fresh and intriguing, demanding a reappraisal.

The CD opens with recitation of the disc’s title, a 14th century poem by the Persian mystic, Hafiz, which aptly sets out our life long quest as “ The subject tonight is love, and for tomorrow night as well. As a matter of fact I know of no better topic for us to discuss until we all die…”

“Secret Love” captures the rush of a joyously hidden love both as a real possibility, and  sharing the fact with the world (“at last my heart’s an open door, and my secret love’s no secret anymore.”). McGarry’s voice soars while Keith Ganz has an exquisite guitar solo.

Kate goes back to her roots for an Irish folk melody of “Climb Down/Whiskey You’re the Devil.” Ganz provides a blues driven acoustic blues guitar lead, and Versace swirls on the organ, while guest drummer Obed Calvaire’s snare drum is featured on “Whiskey.” “Gone With the Wind” highlights Versace’s piano prowess and McGarry’s scatting.

Benny Golson and Kenny Dorham’s “Fair Weather” follows with Kate’s lilting vocal, Versace’s sensitive piano lines, and Ganz’ classical guitar solo all accenting the wistful, hopeful message. Gismonti’s “Playing Palhaco” has new lyrics from Jo Lawry, which show how loves reality can differ from the appearance presented. Again, Ganz and Versace blend seamlessly matching the beauty of Kate’s voice. “Losing Strategy #4,” written by Kate, is haunting and riveting with the theme of revenge blending with regret (“the lonely stepchild of revenge.”). Gary Versace’s accordion effectively adds to the mood of foreboding.

“My Funny Valentine” is expressed as a gentle lullaby, the lyrics caressed as a confessional, and Keith’s guitar is achingly beautiful. Hearing this track as a sound sample was enough for me to eagerly seek out the entire album. “She Always Will” deals with maternal love (“She takes you back where you are from”) with Ganz digging in deep on guitar. “Indian Summer” an oldie that was a feature done by Glenn Miller, explores the wisdom gained from experiencing life’s joys and burdens.

“All You Need is Love” from The Beatles, done as an epilogue romp, ends our love exploration with guest trumpeter, Ron Miles, providing the joyous melody and Kate, the refrain. If only it was that easy…

The Subject is Love is a marvelous issue that I can’t recommend highly enough…

Prologue: The Subject Tonight is Love
Secret Love
Climb Down/Whiskey You’re the Devil
Gone With the Wind
Fair Weather
Playing Palhaco
Losing Strategy #4
My Funny Valentine
Mr. Sparkle/What a Difference a Day Made
She Always Will/The River
Indian Summer
Epilogue: All You Need is Love

—Jeff Krow