Album Review: A Ghost In Every Bar
All About Jazz
Bruce Lindsay, 26th August 2012
Ian Shaw's warm and evocative voice, Fran Landesman's superb lyrics and music from some of her best collaborators: A Ghost In Every Bar has them all. Put it another way: on A Ghost In Every Bar one of the finest singers in contemporary music interprets some of the greatest songs of the last 50 years. If either-or both-of those descriptions sound like hype, that's OK; sometimes the hype hits the nail on the head.
Landesman was born in New York in 1927, moved with her family to London in 1964 and died there on July 23, 2011. Around the mid-'80s a young Shaw was in a band called This Bed with Landesman's son, Miles. Shaw and Landesman met and became friends, while Shaw went on to develop his solo career and to record and perform many of Landesman's songs. While artists including Ella Fitzgerald and Barbra Streisand have recorded their own versions, Shaw's direct, emotionally honest, and very personal interpretations are the benchmark.
On A Ghost In Every Bar Shaw performs songs which Landesman wrote with three of her many collaborators: Tommy Wolf, her first writing partner, who she met in '50s St Louis; singer and writer Bob Dorough; and British composer/pianist Simon Wallace, who accompanies Shaw on most of this album's songs. The singer has recorded some of these songs before-most notably Scars, on Somewhere Towards Love (Splash Point Records, 2009), and the title track of In A New York Minute (Milestone, 1999) (with Cedar Walton)– but this album features new versions recorded in April, 2012.
Dorough co-wrote Small Day Tomorrow, a joyous anticipation of the night before a day with nothing to do. Shaw sings his bluesy take on the song with obvious relish. Wallace was one of Landesman's final co-writers, collaborating between 1994 and 2011 on around 400 compositions. Twelve of his collaborations are on this album, including four (Stranger, Killing Time, Nothing Lasts Forever and Noir) that have not previously been recorded. Shaw's performances of Only Why No More and Scars are heart-rending, while Feet Do Your Stuff and Down manage to be both cynical and funny at the same time.
Wolf wrote the music for what are probably Landesman's two best known songs: Ballad of the Sad Young Men and Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most (apparently a jazz response to T. S. Elliot's assertion that "April is the cruelest month"). Shaw captures the sadness of both lyrics, heightening the emotion through a dignified approach which never asks for pity. The melancholy of Ballad of the Sad Young Men is emphasized by Sue Richardson's flugelhorn, which echoes Shaw's vocal.
Landesman's stories have a universal emotional resonance. All human life is here, presented by a masterly vocalist with an empathic understanding of the lyrics. It's not always easy to listen to a Landesman song, but it's always worthwhile. Shaw ensures that the experience is a life-affirming one.
Track Listing: Feet Do Your Stuff; Only Why No More; Small Day Tomorrow; Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most; In A New York Minute; Love Go Round; In A Matter Of Moments; Down; Nothing Is Mine Now; Scars; Stranger; Killing Time; Noir; Nothing Lasts Forever; Ballad Of The Sad Young Men.
Personnel: Ian Shaw: vocals, piano (6, 7, 12); Simon Wallace: piano; Sue Richardson: flugelhorn (15).