NANCY ERICKSON’S SPLENDID STOCK COMPANY: “HERE & NOW”

Nancy Erickson is a superb singer.  If you haven’t heard her because she is nicely tucked away in the Pacific Northwest, you will be rewarded once you do.

Nancy’s new CD, recorded live, is HERE & NOW, which is an accurate title.  You can hear sound samples and purchase one (or several) here.  I’ve liked her work since I heard her own composition “New Year’s Eve” and wrote about it here in December 2015, and then I was delighted by her then new CD,WHILE STROLLING THROUGH THE PARK, which you can read about here.

As an antidote to the profusion of hyperlinks above, some words.  A few years ago, I would have been embarrassed to quote from myself, but we are now so deeply in the “selfie” age that I trust readers will forgive me: “With this CD, I think Nancy Erickson deserves our very close attention as a fully-formed artist, one of our best contemporary singers — full of feeling, wit, affection, reverence for tradition and a thoroughly winning originality.”

I believe those words even more, listening to HERE & NOW. I should first say that it is a live session before a clearly attentive (even reverent) audience, but that recording “live” is a testament to courage and candor.  No Autotune, no punches, inserts, or other recording-studio dark magics.  Beautiful, satisfying singing, with very fine instrumental accompaniment from the 200 Trio — Cole Schuster, guitar; Greg Feingold, string bass; Max Holmberg, drums, and Alex Dugdale, saxophone.  Nancy has a splendid vocal range, although it never seems she is doing tricks to impress us; her voice pleases in all registers without strain; her diction is flawless; her swing likewise, and her scat-singing is quite delightful.  And when she’s tender, or sharp-edged, or playful, she always swings.

Now, what do I mean by Nancy’s “stock company”?  I don’t mean that she is an expert jazz impersonator — she isn’t Rich Little, and she doesn’t do the police in different voices.  But to me, a stock company is a small collection of highly trained versatile actors: one night, an actress is Ophelia, tender, doomed, fragile; the next night, Goneril or Regan, furious, dangerous, scheming; later on in the week, the angry middle-aged wife in an Albee play, or, hat cocked to one side, the lead in SUMMER STOCK.

Nancy is not an “actress” in the banal sense, and she doesn’t suffer from multiple-personality disorder, but she does morph from song to song so that we hear her beauty, dramatic power, and precision from different angles.

So the tender welcome she offers us in GENTLE RAIN, “There’s a hand for your hand,” which just about made me stop typing so that I could reach out one or both of mine to the speaker, is no longer there on the second track, IF I TELL YOU I LOVE YOU — the rest of the title being “I’m lying.”  This singer is darker-voiced; she is sharpening her scimitar as she sings, each cadence matched to the blade getting more lethal.  She is, as a friend of mine once said, not someone you’d argue with over whose chicken wings those are in the refrigerator.  The darkness lifts a bit — or at least its sunset-shade changes — with a film noir BLACK COFFEE, a period piece whose lyrics might need a dusting.  (No wonder the singer is gloomy and jittery: nicotine, caffeine, and her “oven” don’t add up to a healthy diet.)

A forcefully rollicking MY SHINING HOUR is exultant (and expertly navigated), including Nancy’s scatted exchanges with the drums.  I played this track for a friend, without comment, and the reaction was “Who is that?  She’s got mega-chops,” which I second.  NIGHT IN TUNISIA is easily swinging, and Nancy’s reading is the first where the lyrics have seemed meaningful, and her handling of the instrumental interlude is equally satisfying.  IT’S YOU I LIKE — yes, Mister Rogers’ heartfelt paean to complete uncritical acceptance — begins as a rubato duet for voice and guitar.  Extremely touching, I assure you, and not just for children.  If there was such a thing as radio airplay anymore, this would be a hit, and not just because we need its message.

Nancy’s own LET LOVE BEGIN — a dark yet hopeful invitation to romance — follows, and both singer and song seem fully engaged in the honest appeal, without guile of subtext.  Guile is, however, what WHATEVER LOLA WANTS is all about: the love song of the praying mantis on the honeymoon, perhaps, if I have my insects correct here.  (I grew up with the score of DAMN YANKEES, so listening to LOLA for the first time, when it was over, I thought wistfully of hearing Nancy sing YOU’VE GOTTA HAVE HEART as a ballad.  I don’t know if it’s a good idea, but if anyone could do it, she can.)

Sting’s FRAGILE was new to me (I don’t always take up residence in the modern world) but Nancy’s reading of “How fragile we are” haunted me for days after my first listening.  HOT HOUSE begins with a light-hearted, almost girlish scat reading of the melodic line, which becomes a virtuoso wordless exploration, worthy of a fine bebop instrumentalist.  HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, initially scored for voice and walking bass, feels new — not ninety years old.  Hear Nancy essay “touch my cup” and shift the syllabic emphasis ever so slightly — to great effect.  What she does with “You’re confection, goodness knows!” is hilarious and expert.  And as a gentle embracing coda, there is a two-minute LA VIE EN ROSE: it begins as a duet for voice and bass, and then becomes a sing-along, with Nancy leading the room in the melodic line reduced to “la-la” syllables.  Rather than being a gimmick, it succeeds completely: we hear the room following her, obediently and with affection.  Magic!

Twelve songs, fifty minutes.  A singer you might not have heard of.  But I assure you, the experience of this CD is rather like the most subtle compelling one-woman show you could imagine.  Again, I urge you to visit here for samples: you will not be disappointed.

May your happiness increase!

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2 responses to “NANCY ERICKSON’S SPLENDID STOCK COMPANY: “HERE & NOW”

  1. Eric Whittington

    Michael, you’re the greatest. Thanks & good night! Eric

  2. Sarah Johnson

    I agree totally with your review! I’ve listened to Nancy for quite a while, and enjoyed her previous CDs, too. I especially like her rendition of New Years Eve; I first heard it at my husband and my 50th wedding anniversary……..Ken’s tears were flowing freely. Thank you!
    Sarah Johnson
    sara

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