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CD: Divas, Divas Everywhere!

Posted in: Music
By Larry Jenkins - 2nd November 2006

Two new CD offerings, both privately produced and exquisitely done, have come out in time for you to grab them for Christmas gifts for those on your list with a taste for past elegance. Both feature songstresses of unique style and panache; both are full of nostalgia in their own way; and both singers have a strong fan base from among the gay population. 

 Helen Medlyn's 'Darling, it's Hell'

First, Helen Medlyn, who successfully manages the "cross-over" between opera and more "earthy" types of singing. Helen recently appeared here in Gounod's Faust with the NBR New Zealand Opera Company. But opera only reflects one side of her interests - she's equally at home in a club setting and can evoke that smoke-filled atmosphere (well, in the days when you could smoke in clubs) just as well as the tragic heroines and les femmes fatales she's called on to interpret onstage.

Together with her long-time accomplice, pianist - arranger Penny Dodd, La Medlyn has put together a collection of torch songs from various great composers of torch songs - Gershwin, Porter, Kern, Weill, et al - and called the collection "Darling, It's Hell." If Hell, like this album, is pure pleasure, then bring it on!

For my money, the tearjerker prize goes to "My Funny Valentine", which never fails to fire but here is given the smokiest tone, the funkiest bass (Neil Hannan excels himself on this track) and a cool/hot piano treatment I've never associated with this song, and I've heard it a LOT.

The production values, boldly enough, set out to "…replicate the classic 50s and 60s recording methods - where all artists played together in a room and recorded simultaneously." - so there was little technical interference in the mastering. What you Hears is what you Gets, then, and it's beautiful to listen to. 

 Jennifer Ward-Lealand's 'Falling in Love Again'

A more specialized CD comes from Jennifer Ward-Lealand, recreator of that golden goddess Marlene Dietrich in her cabaret show 'Falling in Love Again', which has just toured the country and will likely return to Auckland soon (watch this space), and that is the title of this CD. Her musical collaborators are Grant Winterburn, piano, and Aaron Coddel, bass.

The musical fare is, of course, the songs from the show and some more, done as authentically and lovingly as you'll ever hear. Ms W-L has obviously studied her model and experienced Dietrich on film and recordings sufficiently to be able to become a persuasive replica of the legend. Many of those odd, idiosyncratic things that Dietrich did, including singing sometimes flat and out-of-tune for effect or covering up flaws with a bold approach, are used to lend authority to these tracks.

The ones you'd expect are here including the title tune and "My Blue Heaven," "La Vie en Rose and "Lilli Marlene". But there is also, funnily enough, the Pete Seeger "Where have All the Flowers Gone?" sounding suitably ironic; and there are a few other surprises as well.

You can search, but you'll never again hear Dietrich as divinely drawn by someone so intelligent and beautiful, and if you've seen the show you'll know what I mean. If you haven't, then buy this CD, give copies to your friends, and the next time you have the opportunity, run but don't walk to see "Falling In Love Again."

Both CDs are available through selected shops and from the artists themselves.

Larry Jenkins - 2nd November 2006

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