Love Notes sees actor/singer Linda Lavin revelling in the joys of – for the most part – the Great American Songbook. Lavin has hoovered up any number of awards for her performances in Broadway shows, but here she digs back into the standard repertoire with a jazzy small group dominated by pianist Billy Stritch.
Though much is familiar, and none the worse for that, the programme is nicely balanced, with Antonio Carlos Jobim, the Eagles and Steely Dan fitting in alongside the Gershwins and Rodgers and Hart – and it’s a delight to come across an obscure Vernon Duke classic, Not a Care in the World.
We are clearly in safe hands with the opening I’ve Got My Eyes on You, Stritch’s incisive piano introduction leading to Lavin’s wittily phrased vocal. The number also features a cabaret-style practice that is rather overdone on the album, the insertion of another song in the middle, in this case You’d be So Nice to Come Home To – with most of the 12 tracks coming in at around three minutes it doesn’t leave much time to do anything with the song.
However, Lavin certainly does plenty with one of Lorenz Hart’s greatest lyrics, I Wish I Were in Love Again. Phrasing the words with the necessary pungent irony (“the double crossing of a pair of heels” – wonderful!), she then builds on Aaron Weinstein’s acidly swinging violin solo for an exhilarating ride-out. Lavin, with her gift for phrasing even the sub-text of a lyric, is wise to restore the seldom sung verse, as she does to a pretty unfamiliar Cole Porter song, Ace in the Hole.
Much of the album is jazz-tinged, but her version of the Eagles’ I Can’t Tell You Why has the feel of a dramatic show tune, underpinned by sympathetic piano, though it’s not long before Duke Ellington’s Just Squeeze Me – intimate and confiding – takes us back into familiar territory.
The last three tracks perfectly suggest the range of the album, two jazz flag wavers, Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing and bebop favourite, How High the Moon, separated by a tender reading of Michel Legrand’s You Must Believe in Spring. It Don’t Mean a Thing exemplifies one of the strengths of the album: Lavin’s regard for words, even in a song with half its lyrics scat, prompts her to sing the verse and then begin with a subtle swing until I Got Rhythm breaks in – yes, it also exemplifies a slightly annoying mannerism. How High the Moon, on the other hand, simply sends us on our way rejoicing.
Love Songs doesn’t break new ground and puts enjoyment way above innovation, a fine selection of songs treated with wit and understanding by an accomplished singer who’s been round the block a few times and knows the way in.
Love Notes is available from Club 44 Records now