Cut Your Hair
Curtis Stigers - Secret Heart (Concord, 2002)
Curtis Stigers - It's So Hard Living Without You (Randy Newman)
Curtis Stigers - Hometown Blues (Steve Earle)
No, don't run away! Curtis Stigers is no longer your MOR, sub-Michael Bolton, enemy but rather your swingin' hip daddy friend. Like Top Cat but without the love of purple waistcoats. I've been trying to explain as much to my good companion in blogdom, Jefito, but he just wouldn't believe me so I've had to resort to this.
For a start, I would like to reiterate the claims of our ominpresent friend, the AMG guide, when I say that Stigers' records for Concord are not an unholy trinity of jazz, pop, and blue-eyed soul but rather a straight jazz record although more in the Harry Connick Jnr vein than Thelonious Monk. The band is balanced toward the intimate rather than any foolhardy big band gestures with a simple setup of drums, bass and piano with Stigers flexing his chops on the tenor sax for the two originals on the album, 'How Could A Man Take Such A Fall' and 'Swingin' Down at 10th and Main'. Yes, those with any trace of inductive logic will have realised that this is mainly a covers album or what people prefer to term "an album of jazz standards". However, when you find that Stigers has tackled Randy Newman (as he has done on all four of his Concord releases), Steve Earle, Ron Sexsmith and Dave Frishberg then you come to realise that this is a more exacting trawl through "The Great American Songbook" than you'd normally expect.
Take for example 'Hometown Blues' which was originally a bluesy jug band stomp that bordered on skiffle and has been reinterpretated as a swing number, keeping the high tempo and deprecating sense of humour refreshingly intact. It also highlights the strengths of Stigers who is neither an oppressive technocrat in his delivery (Michael Buble is a prime culpirt of this syndrome with his cultured, charisma free style) nor one to oversing his part and tread all over the band's toes as it were. One could never label his vocal stylings bland either for, although they may not include the vocal tics of some of the greats, Stigers seems to be occupying the same space as O.V. Wright and Sam Cooke. He clearly has a smile on his face throughout the song and it shows in a clean, nuanced, and enigmatic performance.
The delicate and respectful treatment of Randy Newman's beautiful 'Livin' Without You' (retitled on Stigers' album for some reason) is just aching with restrained passion and guile. You can see the smoke masquerading as fog in the air causing the eyes to water in pain and grief from the Guaraldi piano intro. By the time, you've reached the third line of "The subway shakes my floor", you've stopped whatever earthly distraction you were engaged in and begun to listen intently which is something that Newman with his dryness and rasping lisp of a voice has never always been able to achieve in my personal opinion. What makes me so enthusiastic about this as a record is the refusal to drag these fantastic lyrics into a melodramatic tupour but rather allow them to breathe and speak for themselves; a bold move which a lot of vocalists just don't have the guts to do. It's the equivalent to skimming stones across a lake, on a dew stained early morning, leaving behind soft ripples across the water's surface. Something has been changed but without destroying the fabric from which the artist is working. I hope that you all enjoy Stigers' lovingly constructed change of pace as much as I do.
Buy - Curtis Stigers - Secret Heart
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