Two years ago, the pianist Michael Kanan invited me to hear and video his duo-recital with the singer Abigail Riccards, who was moving from New York to Chicago. I had not heard of Abigail, but Michael’s endorsement of any artist is an unshakable statement of the artist’s deep value. I was immediately impressed with Abby’s steady pace, her wise understanding of lyrics, her ability to evoke feelings in us with even the most familiar song, and her light-hearted swing.
Here they are with a prayerful ALL THE WAY: you’ll get the idea of what so struck me, and everyone else listening — the warmth, openness, intelligence, and empathy of Abigail’s singing.
I’ve been waiting for a CD that would show Abigail at her best, and EVERY LITTLE STAR is it.
Co-produced by Jane Monheit and Abigail herself, it is a consistent delight. Some of that is due to the musicians she asked to join her: Michael on piano, Peter Bernstein, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass; Eliot Zigmund, drums. Some of it is due to the sprightly mix of songs Abigail has chosen: old favorites made new — I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR / SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN / IF I HAD YOU / HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN / A SLEEPIN’ BEE / I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT YOU / I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE / SMILE / BYE BYE BLACKBIRD / WALTZ FOR DEBBY — and an original by Jeannie Tanner, ENDLESS JOY, and Joni Mitchell’s CIRCLE GAME (a duet for Abigail and Jane).
But this isn’t another program of a youthful singer offering up songs everyone knows in predictable ways. You will quickly admire the easy, conversational way Abigail delivers the lyrics — words uttered as if the thoughts were hers — and her sweet improvisations, which shed light on the song rather than superimposing her ego on the composer’s. Her generous spirit comes through in the substantial space she gives to Michael, Neal, Peter, and Eliot — so that when she returns after their instrumental interludes, it is as if she is now being carried triumphantly on their shoulders.
The tempos chosen are also deliciously insightful: ballads never drag and the quicker songs don’t rush. Little arranging touches raise each performance well above the familiar: a wordless prelude to IF I HAD YOU; a nifty beginning to HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?; the way Abigail and Jane intertwine on CIRCLE GAME; the tender way she and the band approach I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT YOU; the bouncing scat chorus with which she begins I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE before shifting to another key. . .
My current favorites — instant classics! — are a Riccards / Kanan duet of SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN that begins with an slow rubato reading of the verse, then slowly tumbles into the chorus . . . where we hear singer and pianist discovering this 1929 classic as if for the first time. I couldn’t immediately place where I had heard such intimacy before, then it hit me — the Fifties duets of Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins. The same qualities are evident throughout A SLEEPIN’ BEE, a Riccards / Kanan duet. And in the Riccards / Bernstein SMILE, tender and rueful without being melancholic.
On the dozen songs that make up this varied program, Abigail Riccards proves herself not only a splendidly intuitive singer, but an artist who is the equal of the fine improvising instrumentalists around her.
Now, hearing this, you could choose to explore the banquet of live performances Abigail Riccards has on YouTube, and I wouldn’t blame you a bit. But I would urge you to take the leap forward into purchasing this CD here. All CD sales go to ArtStrides (a nonprofit program for special needs and financially disadvantaged children) so you benefit them by your generosity and you benefit yourself by having this music to listen to often.
May your happiness increase!