The history of popular song focuses on love-relationships, with thousands of compositions celebrating romantic joy and heartbreak . . . from HAVE YOU MET MISS JONES? to THE END OF A LOVE AFFAIR. But other songs hold other emotional stages up to the light. Think of DOWN WITH LOVE and LET THE DOORKNOB HIT YOU — world-weary skepticism and near-comedy.
The wonderful singer Hetty Kate has just released a four-song EP, its title VALENTINES, which might make some think of candy hearts and chocolates purchased from the nearest convenience store, but its center is anything but a sweet truffle:
On a day for lovers filled with flowers, chocolates and love notes.. these songs, a little tongue-in-cheek, a little acerbic, are for the singletons, the spurned and the ‘bah humbugs’ among us.
The gorgeous EP cover — a beautiful woman, alone — might mislead some into expecting emotional rhapsodies. But the music is nearly as sharp as the tip of Hetty’s fashionable shoe. Or that dangerously pointed elbow. But perhaps I overstate. This is not an acidic rage-blast aimed at imaginary betrayers, a musical death ray coming out of our earbuds or speakers. True, the songs are more vinegary than sugary, but Hetty is such a stylist that their sharpness comes through in her precise, sometimes mocking delivery of the words, but underpinning it all is her tender affection, even reverence, for the songs themselves.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the recording studio with my own project. Though there hasn’t been much time to actually record, I’ve been full of ideas, both big and small! Releasing an EP for Valentine’s Day has been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so I’m thrilled I had the opportunity when I was on tour in Australia during 2022.
On this recording I invited three wonderful Australian musicians. Mark Fitzgibbon is an award winning jazz pianist and one of Australia’s great musical treasures. Guitarist Sam Lemann is a long time collaborator and treasured friend whom some of you may recognised from the days of the “Irwell Street String Band”, a group we founded together. Another close friend, Ben Hanlon, is an incredible double bassist, a principal with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and an ‘in demand’ sideman for Australia’s finest jazz musicians and vocalists. You can enjoy listening to him on my 2019 album release ‘Under Paris Skies’.
I’m very happy to have both this recording and the memory of a fun winter afternoon in the studio. Recordings are snapshots in time, a souvenir, and very precious. We all loved being under the expert eyes and ears of Niko Schauble at Pughouse in Melbourne. Making music with friends you admire and enjoy, is there anything better?
And the songs:
BLAH BLAH BLAH (George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin) 1931
GOODY GOODBYE (Nat Simon / James Cavanaugh) 1939
ROMANCE WITHOUT FINANCE (Lloyd Grimes) 1944
PLEASE DON’T BUG ME (Frank Rosolino) 1961
I knew the Gershwin composition through the splendid trio DUCHESS, and even though it is more about love-song conventions than about the experience, it’s memorably funny (and it requires great art to handle the repetitions of the title without them sounding . . . blah. And ROMANCE WITHOUT FINANCE is famous to many jazz fans as an example of not only Tiny Grimes at work in his many selves, but also the early Charlie Parker on Savoy. But the other two were new to me and are welcome additions to my mental file-folder, the one labeled “Anti-Romance.”
The musicians surrounding Hetty are glorious: they accompany and lead the way with equal grace, and their shining sounds are so lovingly captured here. Hetty herself is a marvel: her voice itself is a pleasure, and she is precise without being in the least formal. What she brings to each song is the emotional intelligence of someone who truly understands the complex script of the apparently simple lyrics: she is at once producer, director, and star.
True, it’s not music specifically meant for February 14, but even if you are part of best romantic relationship of your life, this EP delivers compact intense musical pleasures.
You can listen and download here — perhaps the digital gift can be a perfectly pointed arrow to someone deserving it? Or simply the gift of a poised musical interlude with no revenge attached.
May your happiness increase!