Years ago, a company I worked for – which also was one of the oldest and largest printing companies in Atlanta, Georgia – had an original Muzak system in place, and had maintained their music subscription throughout the years. The compound sprawled across numerous interconnected buildings, and I worked out of one of the buildings farthest away from the main office. It was frequently necessary to traverse the long hallways of multiple buildings en route to meetings, etc., and although it was a rather loud manufacturing facility, for lengthy stretches you’d be serenaded by Muzak’s easy-listening-inflicted offerings of the day. I’ll never forget a particular occasion, where this incredibly familiar song was playing, and how I racked my brain trying to place the tune. When it finally came to me, I stopped in my tracks and laughed out loud – the song was Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”! Later in that same week, I also identified Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” in all its rapturous easy-listening glory.
As shocked as I was by Muzak’s song selection, the real shocker for me was – get this – that I actually found them rather enjoyable to listen to! Somehow, through clever reworkings of the material, they’d captured the essence of the music, and had made it available to a whole new (or maybe very old) generation of listeners. Still, I was somewhat conflicted – as toe-tappingly addictive as I found these trifles, I still felt quite weird that I honestly could admit an appreciation for them.
Which brings us to this present offering from Lea DeLaria. Based on her familiarity to me as a somewhat shocking stand-up comic, I pretty much decided that this disc had to be a joke – especially after browsing the song selection. With diverse tunes ranging from Patti Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot” to Blondie’s “Call Me” or even Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” stylistically, this disc was all over the map. I put the CD in my “maybe” pile where it languished for quite a while, until it finally made it into the player for what I was convinced would be a cursory run-through. Shockingly, I found myself really digging the infectious grooves pouring forth from the stereo, and to my great surprise, Lea DeLaria can really sing! She doesn’t have the classic, big voice like so many of the big names in jazz vocals, but her full-bodied alto has a warmth and sweetness to it that’s perfectly suited to the songs and arrangements here.
And speaking of those arrangements, Gil Goldstein, who handles piano and keyboards, also wrote most of the arrangements that have turned this otherwise broad palette of seventies, eighties and nineties pop repertory into what are very nearly perfect jazz standards. The musicians are superb, and Lea DeLaria finds a way to make these songs her own. When you can take a teen angst ridden tune like Green Day’s “Longview” and turn it into a toe-tapping jazzy little ditty, that’s no mean feat – Ms. DeLaria and company are successful at making just about everything on this disc work to near perfection. Even an out-there song like Robert Wyatt’s (of Soft Machine fame) “Alliance,” easily the disc’s most energetic tune with electric bass and some pretty wild guitar runs, still maintains a jazzy sensibility with lots of really good snare and brush work throughout.
Telarc’s sound quality, as usual, is superb. I could easily see this disc getting airplay on alternative radio stations, or even turning up in crowd-pleasing mix discs for get-togethers with your hip friends. Very highly recommended.
Tracks: Dancing Barefoot; Kiko and the Lavender Moon; Call Me; Philadelphia; Just A Girl; Been Caught Stealing; Black Hole Sun; People Are Strange; Tattooed Love Boys; Alliance; Longview.
— Tom Gibbs