Last month I reviewed the excellent soundtrack album to The Cooler (if you missed the review you can read it here). One of the highlights of that mix of jazz songs and Mark isham's score proved to be a track called "Love Me Like Candy", the title number from the debut disc of singer Rebecca Kyler Downs.
Well now we have that album, and very fine it is too. No its not film music, but it contains several numbers which have appeared in various movies over the years, and several more which will doubtless follow "Love Me Like Candy" onto the silver screen. And besides that its simply a terrific jazz-swing set which perfectly evokes the sound of a generation of smoky noir thrillers and the more upbeat sound of vintage Hollywood musicals yet offers a distinctive personality of its own. Anyone who has fallen under the spell of Diana Krall or any of the many Krall wannabes currently doing the rounds but would like something with rather a lot more sass, swing and sheer joy of music making should look no further – Love Me Like Candy (the album) swings so hard it rocks!
One thing which makes this disc so appealing is its diversity. Each of the 13 songs takes a distinctive approach both in arrangement and vocal performance, the tracks sequenced to provide real variety so there is never any risk of complacency or boredom. Downs characterisations range from sultry sensuality through perky playfulness, sensitive introspection, little girl innocence, ironic bluesy resignation to good-time raunch and starry eyed nostalgic romance.
Further to that, it can not go without noting that five of the numbers are co-written by Downs with various members of her very talented band, and that amazingly they more than hold their own with the classics covered in the remaining eight cuts.
I wrote last month that if "Love Me Like Candy" had been written 50 years ago it would be a standard now, such is its memorable melody and equally effective lyric. Well the surprise is the other new numbers are just as good. "The Kiss" finds Downs with a beguilingly breathy vocal looking back over last night with sultry tune and a truly infectious melody ably supported by co-writer Red Young's piano. The Downs-Young team also offer "Bernaise", a charming, light and playful dishful of sauce:
"Cause I 'm the kinda girl that needs some physical attention
I 'm lookin ' for a romance, I 'm looking for affection
Instead I got a PhD in good intentions!"
A semi-spoken verse lyric of complaint about a man who "needs a written invitation", clearly no match for a lady who wants to "Boogie With The Bad Cats"… the rest of my whole life"; a full-on up tempo number sure to fill any dance floor where real music is played. "Amen to that jumpin' jive," indeed.
The last original number is very different. Co-written with trumpet and flugel-horn player Brian Swartz (who also co-penned the title track), "Belle Éopque" is a melancholy French-flavoured ballad set "one more hour before we say goodbye". The smoothly flowing melody complete with central piano solo and wise-after-the-event lyric all seem to be in homage to Michel Legrand, particularly to The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) and his fine "The Windmills of Your Mind".
Lyrics such as…
"A beating heart, the ticking of the clock"
"You stand before my eyes, echoes of whispered lies.
Love was only endless at the time."
"There's more to love than truth,
So Blame it on my Youth.
Love was only endless in my Mind."
are particularly evocative, while the melody is strong enough to stand as a classic. The song would slip perfectly into a high class romantic thriller as the perfect end title song.
Of the covers Downs and band bring a real feel-good vibe to "On The Sunny Side of the Street" in a recording guaranteed to put a smile on anyone's face. Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad, And That Ain't Good" follows with a lovely vocal in beguiling version of this classic tale of romantic disappointment.
"My Sugar Is So Refined", a number popularised by Johnny Mercer, is a very playful, frivolous 1940's number with Red and the Redhots; additional vocals in 1940's girl trio style by Red Young and Dina Bennett. Rarely if ever can the words "I wonder what she'll do when we're on our honeymoon. Oh, she's so refined…" have sounds simultaneously so innocently sweet and sensually suggestive.
Blues standard "Early in the Morning" initially sounds a little out of place among the jazz sound of the rest of the album, but soon grows its magic, while "Dream A Little Dream of Me" has a delightful nostalgic romantic glow. "Love For Sale" is treated to an invigorating Latin vibe which makes the subject sound like good clean fun – quite an achievement given the tart with a heart of gold lyric.
Sondheim's "Sooner or Later" is given a gloriously predatory maneating sheen – when this lady sings that "you're mine on a platter" you'd better believe her. A simply spine-tingling performance of a great song. Then the set ends with "Well You Needn't", Brian Swartz arrangement delivering real punch right up to the sudden, no-nonsense, don't outstay the welcome ending.
This is a simply superb album, so good that one can easily overlook the minimal distortion that creeps in on a couple of tracks, and the occasional questionable note which would doubtless have been fixed had this been a major label release. From the performances to the quality of the original material, that this is a self-produced debut set beggars belief. Let's hope there's more soon, but meanwhile this is the real thing from the hottest jazz singer since, and we mean this is the nicest way, Jessica Rabbit.