Songs For Old Lovers - Randy Kaplan Album Review
Kaplan's dressed in an artfully tired classic 50s suit, handkerchief showing from jacket breast pocket, shirt and tie and a fedora that's carefully tilted, with a Marlboro moodily on the go. I'm thinking "que passa?" because after all I was way fortunate and so appreciative last year to get to know Randy's wonderful, calm way about words and syncopation via "Durango", his deceptively controlled Americana / Mexicana sparkling collaboration album with Brian Schey - check it out, it's a keeper that sticks, believe me - I'm a fan.
Amongst that catch-me-if-you-can tequila madness twinkled early-hours-of-the-morning, star-lit glints of mono-chrome 1940s' American pop songwriting - I may have mentioned Hoagie Carmichael in my appreciation at that time. From that beginning, this collection comes as a carefully-built, in-the-image-of, and in-homage-to, the immortal blessed, blissed writing of Lorenz Hart, Cole Porter, Jimmy van Huesen and Johnny Mercer. A labour of love, this is admirable and puts a reach into Randy's songwriting, a stretch from his "Durango" high-mark and hence, I think it's an instinctive, perhaps brave move. Although recorded in the mid-West, this is Manhattan writ large and titled after Sinatra's 1954 "Songs for Young Lovers". The songs here all bear a relationship with classic 1920s-to1950s American old-school pop, correcting the all too easy, way off the mark thought, that music began with Bo, Buddy, Jerry Lee and Elvis.
"Sad to be Happy" sets the down-beat theme where, sometimes, when you got the blues you truly believe you'll never, but never, get out of it. Spiritually and vocally its uneasy listening, framed in Nick Weiser's minor-key piano, a flawless, understated melancholic saudade, late-night heartbreak in the big, noisy, busy, lonely city. Larry Maxey's exquisite Middle Eastern flavoured clarinet, a laid-back arrangement, and Randy's resigned, drained vocal make "Let's Not Fall in Love" a been-there, still-got- the-scars, déjà vu acquiescent admission of failure that maybe echoes that Tom Waits "I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You" inevitability. "Hard to Love" concerns bitter but realistic acceptance of the rough end of the emotional pineapple where "I took my chances and you took your winnings" and, invoking the wee small hours of the morning twixt hope and despair, "I Won't Be Around" is doomed, romantic fatalism comforted in blue-note piano, funky brass and Brian Schey's cool upright double bass. "I Will Always Be the Same" understands, sadly, the static que sera unavoidability of certain things where "My world will remain more steadfast than the stars above", and in contrast, an instrumental remix re-shapes the same track into a sticky, percussive 2 am club groove. A song suite flows throughout and if my imagination tells me that Randy Newman hovers over "The Bottom of Her Heart" then that is high praise, not low criticism. Montague Z Young liner-notes the sh*t out of the specific old-song to new-song references, an informed insightful read.
Overall, Randy has made a brave move and overall, it works damned well – keep going, buddy.
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