I’m always open to another all-Kurt Weill album and found this entry most welcome. If the vocalist is from the jazz or classical field there would be no problem deciding what category to place this CD in, but since Ford is really neither, let’s try Pop. Actually Weill’s songs were not written for trained singers at all but designed to be sung by performers who were ordinary/extraordinary people without vocal training. His wife and chief muse of his music, Lotte Lenya, could not be said to have a beautiful voice, but boy, what personality and emotion!
Ford seems ideal for this fresh approach to the songs of Weill; I’m not familiar with her background but her husband and producer of this album is blues & roots guitarist and singer Robben Ford. Also heavily involved is innovative pianist-composer Roger Kellaway, who led the 28-piece German big band in Cologne in his own arrangements. The 15 songs come from both the German and the American periods of Weill’s life, and even a rare song from his brief time in Paris is included. Kellaway’s arrangements are a delight and the sonics superb; mastering was by Bernie Grundman.
There have been many collections of Weill songs from various vocalists as well as strictly instrumental collections. Many of them try to update the voice of Lenya – the most successful at this is probably Ute Lemper, but in some ways she’s almost too professional/show biz about it, as if Liza Minelli had a hand in her training. A recent Weill collection from a jazz singer came across my desk and it was horrible – missed the point entirely. For a wild and wooly cross-section of extremely varied Weill interpretations, Hal Wilner’s production Lost in the Stars is a classic. Anne Kerry Ford’s interpretations are often almost more dramatic than one would bargain for in a cabaret setting – they’re more like a one-woman-show stage presentation. She has a voice of great flexibility and range without sounding overly “trained” as do some less successful Weill interpreters. The terrific lyrics – from such as Brecht, Ira Gershwin, Langston Hughes, Maxwell Anderson – aid the emotional effect of the songs in ways that most songs in the Great American Songbook fail to match. The only one that doesn’t make it in the Ford version is Tchaikovsky – the rapid-fire listing of dozens of Russian composers. Can’t hold a candle to Danny Kaye’s original version.
The promotion person for this CD specializes in mainstream jazz releases, but took on Ford’s album due to his lifelong fascination with the Weill/Lenya milieu (which mirrors my own). He arranged for a video sampler DVD to be provided to reviewers only, made at a live performance in Germany with the WDR big band conducted by Kellaway. The video quality was poor, but interestingly I found that seeing Ford performing visually spoiled the impact of the songs. Her stage antics seemed over the top. I don’t know if a DualDisc or two-disc release was anticipated, but it would not have been worthwhile. This CD is definitely the way to experience her new take on these classic Weill songs:
I’m a Stranger Here Myself, My Ship, Lonely House, Pirate Jenny, Tango Ballad, One Life to Live, Solomon Song, Youkali, Tchaikovsky, Song of the Rhineland, Progress, It Never Was You, Surabaya Johnny, Listen to my Song, Lost in the Stars.
– John Sunier