MARGUTH = MAGIC

Karen Marguth by Tomas Ovalle

Karen Marguth by Tomas Ovalle

Perhaps you have not yet heard Karen Marguth, who is a superbly winning jazz singer. If this is the case,  I could choose to get annoyed about a culture that sometimes elevates glossy mediocrities over creative individualists, but why fill the air with bleakness?  Rather, you have delightful surprises in store for you.

But enough from me — for the moment.  Listen to Karen here.

karen marguth just you

The reason I am celebrating Karen Marguth can be seen to the left — her remarkable new CD, JUST YOU, JUST ME.  The cover image is tiny but the music she makes is blissfully expansive.  She has only one accompanist — or collaborator — for the eleven delicious performances here, acoustic string bassist Kevin Hill.  They are a glorious pair; you won’t want anyone else.

Many singers, some of them with the best intentions in the world (male and female) decide that their CDs have to be productions.  So everything is done with beautiful elaborate care, down to the hair stylist for the photo shoot, the ornate arrangements — in the best tradition of singers who appeared, beautiful in person, in front of a big band where everything had been carefully planned out from the start.  I am not mocking this approach to art, merely noting that I often listen with my eyes closed rather than staring at the gorgeous creature, artfully posed, on the CD cover.

Karen Marguth is approaching music from a different perspective.  As music, as playful exploration.  She has a light-hearted honest voice that pleases on its own terms.  She sounds candid, as if she would never lie to us in music.  Hers is a flexible joyous approach to the song.  Karen has an instrumentalist’s ease — without “innovating” or “improving” on the composition at the composer’s expense. Karen takes small risks with bent notes, sweetly demure (but effective) scatting. And the most familiar songs glow under her caressing attention.

I should list them here: YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO / JUST YOU, JUST ME / I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT / LOVE’S GOT ME IN A LAZY MOOD / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / I GOT IT BAD / IMAGINATION / HARPO’S BLUES (by Phoebe Snow) / IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME / BABY WHAT’S YOUR ALIBI? (by Nellie Lutcher) / THE MOON IS MADE OF GOLD (by Richard Jones).

Each track has a small delicious series of surprises in it: very little is predictable but all the quirky twists pay off in the best ways.  I would suggest that listeners begin with I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT as a good place to hear what these reverent explorers accomplish so well.  And then Eddie Miller’s SLOW MOOD, transformed into LOVE’S GOT ME IN A LAZY MOOD.  There’s a song that has always made me want to leave the room — with new feminist lyrics by Karen and Brady McKay — BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME — that has become a hilarious delight because of Karen and Kevin.  YOU’D BE SO NICE and IMAGINATION have been done and perhaps overdone, but they sound so fresh here.

And Kevin Hill is all the rhythm section — and eloquent soloist — any band would ever need.  His sound, resonant without being overpowering; his intonation delightfully accurate.  No one would feel encouraged to talk during his solos. Milt Hinton would have invited him to St. Albans for Mona’s chicken and a good long session in the basement.  (There is no higher tribute I can imagine.)

I know a CD has captured me when, having heard it once through, I want to hear it again right away.  I’m listening for the third time to JUST YOU, JUST ME, and I plan to play it for friends and make converts.

This unobtrusive little CD — about the length of an ancient twelve-song vinyl record of my adolescence — is a very important piece of art, because it bravely defies convention to present naked song, unadorned (yet expert) improvisation, joyous eccentric collaboration.  In an age where froth tries to pass itself off as substance, Karen Marguth and Kevin Hill offer us beauty.  And that is worth celebration.

Here is the link to CDBaby — at a price that is next door to free.

Karen Marguth and Kevin Hill make magical music.  You’ll hear.

May your happiness increase!

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