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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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MELINDA HUGHES

Smoke and Noise - Songs by Mischa Spolianksy and Kiss & Tell

NIMBUS NI6139

 

 

  1. Life's a Swindle [3:50]
  2. Crunch [3:08]
  3. L'heure bleue [3:42]
  4. The Smart Set [3:43]
  5. Carbon Footprints in my Jimmy Choos [3:12]
  6. Das Lila Lied [3:43]
  7. Where Flamingoes Fly [3:37]
  8. I am a Vamp [3:59]
  9. Toy Boy [3:26]
  10. Auf der Mundharmonica [2:56]
  11. Close your eyes and wish for happiness [5:05]
  12. Leben ohne liebe kanst du nicht [3:02]
  13. Kleptomania [1:37]
  14. Smokers Lament [3:21]
  15. Don't be afraid [3:39]
  16. Auf Wiedersehen [1:57]

Melinda Hughes (vocals)
Jeremy Limb (piano and arrangements); Andy Tolman (bass); Jamie Fisher (drums); Andy Smith (trumpet): Philip Achille (harmonica); Martin White (accordion);
rec. [2011] Royal College of Music Studios, London [54:27]

 

It's largely back to Weimar with this album from Melinda Hughes and colleagues. `Smoke and Noise' is the English translation of `Shall und Rauch', a Berlin Cabaret club for which Mischa Spoliansky wrote. The songs in this album are all his, except for some authored by Hughes's group, Kiss and Tell. Some, but not all, of Spoliansky's songs are sung in an English translation.

The songs are all nicely arranged and the ethos sounds right too, without the kind of camp straining that can afflict other recreationist attempts to summon up Weimar cynicism and hedonism. Life's a Swindle is a good opener, with Hughes's very English accent making no attempt either at a husky Dietrich drawl or a transatlantic farrago. The peppy dance rhythms of L'heure bleue are well maintained and the toff's ennui is skewered in an English translation of a 1931 song called, in the original, Das Lied der Gesellschaft with lyrics by the mordant Marcellus Schiffer. The English lyrics are by Jeremy Lawrence.

The drollery and world weariness that infuses some of the songs makes for timeless listening. The harmonica that lights up Auf der Mundharmonica is unusual for two reasons; its instrumentation, in the context of these songs, and also because it's a late song, composed in 1956, and the only non-Weimar example of Spoliansky's work in this album. Maybe the song that best captures Hughes's take on the genre, and that of her accompanying group, is Leben ohne liebe kanst du nicht where one can imagine Lale Andersen doing the honours.

Hughes's group, Kiss and Tell, offers a contemporary take on these cabaret songs. Whether down in the dumps or essaying a lament for smokers, the lyrics are bang up to date; free internet access in libraries, iPhones, bankers, Jackie Stallone, Milfs, Gilfs, and cougars - you may have to Google a couple of those, but make sure your Norton is up-to-date. With a sassy supporting band and especially Jeremy Limb's articulate arranging skills, these hip English turns ensure plenty of wit, drollery and dirt are put across. Hughes can turn operatic when the occasion demands it, as it does once or twice - she's a trained opera singer, so it's easy for her - but scales her voice finely for these intimate songs, inflecting with knowing hauteur.

Texts of the non-English songs are included. I enjoyed this then-and-now project a lot. I think the group would be fun to see in concert.

Jonathan Woolf



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