Hetty Kate and Gordon Webster
I am delighted to introduce the fine singer Hetty Kate. To those who already know her, let this be a repeat embrace and celebration. Hetty does all the right things, without straining or undue drama. Her voice is clear and penetrating; her diction beautiful without being “learned” (she has a conversational ease); she swings; she subtly but affectingly improvises; she understand the lyrics; she embellishes and ornaments but never obliterates the melody. She respects the great singers of the past and present but never climbs in to the tomb and closes the door.
I delight in the two new CDs she has presented to us, in her sweet light-hearted approach. When she decides to snap out a lyric, the results are explosively good (hear her FROST ON THE MOON). She sounds as if she is merely singing the song, but we know that such casualness is true art.
Hetty is international in the best way: based in Melbourne, Australia, she recorded one CD on a New York City trip — enjoying the company of fine local musicians including Gordon Webster, piano; Dan Levinson, reeds; Mike Davis, trumpet, Cassidy Holden, guitar (now of New Orleans, but I knew him first as a string bassist with the Cangelosi Cards), Kevin Congleton, drums; Rob Adkins, string bass; Joseph Wiggan, tap dancing (wonderfully on Shoo Fly Pie); Adrien Chevalier, violin (Besame Mucho); Adam Brisbin, guitar; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; and a quartet of additional horns on the final track to make a rocking big band, Nadje Noordhuis, Jay Rattman, Michael Webster, Mike Fahie. The truly international trombonist Shannon Barnett (Australia / New York / Germany) also pays a call. The result is irresistible, one of those CDs I wanted to play again right away as soon as it ended.
The CD is called GORDON WEBSTER MEETS HETTY KATE, and the equality of the title is mirrored in the music, with a nice balance between singer and band. The soloists tell us stories; Gordon’s wonderfully off-center piano is always a deep pleasure, and the sound — thanks to Michael Perez-Cisneros — is rich, exquisite.
Hetty told me, “I really let my imagination go a little with the song list, and love digging out tunes that aren’t played too much,” thus, Button Up Your Overcoat / Blitzkrieg Baby / Peek-a-boo / Shoo Fly Pie & Apple Pan Dowdy / How D’ya Like To Love Me? / Eight, Nine & Ten / There’s Frost On The Moon / Busy Line / Sweet Lover No More / I Wanna Be Around / Hard Hearted Hannah / Bésame Mucho / I Lost My Sugar In Salt Lake City.
Two songs were unfamiliar charmers, so I asked her about their origins. Here’s what Hetty wrote:
I first heard Peek-A-Boo on a .. wait for it.. Dove advertisement (probably on You Tube), where they’d used the song as the soundtrack to a story about how women are always so self conscious about their looks, and don’t like being photographed – but when they are children they have no shame about this and just dance and ham for the camera.. a little message about trying to be confident and see the beauty in us all! So the song was a cute one.. I fell immediately in love with it and with some research found the vocalist, Rose Murphy, the “chee chee girl” and also added her other famous song ‘Busy Line’ to the album. She was quite an extraordinary performer and pianist, and now I’m a big fan.
There are so many wonderful singers who don’t get much of a ‘look in’ because of Ella / Billie / Peggy / Anita and so forth – I feel that not only am I getting a benefit from discovering these other singers, but their memory can be kept alive a little too! Audrey Morris sang ‘How D’Ya Like To Love Me’ and she was an extraordinary talent as well (Bob Hope also famously sang that song) Sweet Lover and I Wanna Be Around were given to me on a mix tape by a good friend with a Blossom Dearie obsession and her approach to two rather evil songs was of course cute as a button – at the time I was going through some romantic challenges of my own, and I love to sing about the darker side of love as well as its light and sparkling hopefulness!
There’s Frost On The Moon was also given to me — Chick Webb’s band with Ella Fitzgerald (very young) and I believe Louis Jordan – and again, the lyrics were an immediate drawcard as well as the melody. The band in the studio had a great time with this one! I think it’s our favourite!
A lot of my family are writers, and as well as being drawn to the melody of a tune, I am always entranced by a clever turn of phrase, and with this album being able to match clever songs with some great dance tempos and arrangements by Gordon I was in heaven!!
Had Hetty recorded only this CD, I would be heralding her as a reassuringly professional new talent. But there’s more. DIM ALL THE LIGHTS is an entrancing collection of “vintage love songs” associated with Peggy Lee, June Christy, and Julie London: The Thrill Is Gone / In the Still of the Night / Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered / Answer Me, My Love / Why Don’t You Do Right? / Cry Me A River / Something Cool / Wives and Lovers / I Get Along Without You Very Well. Hetty is accompanied by a spare but beautiful quartet of Sam Keevers, piano; James Sherlock, guitar; Ben Robertson, string bass; Danny Farugia, drums.
The temptation for a singer, choosing these songs so strongly associated with these majestic artists, would be either to copy or to go in the other direction — vary the tempo, add odd rhythmic backgrounds, and the like. Hetty does neither: I am sure that the voices of the Great Foremothers are echoing in her head, but she treats each song as its own new script, and takes her time, inventing a new, lifelike way to sing it. No maudlin swooning, no pounding drums, no melodramatic rubato. Just effective singing: I’d put her version of BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, and BEWILDERED up against anyone’s. Understated, apparently cool, but with real passion coming through.
I believe Hetty has been singing professionally only since 2006, but she is a real treasure. No fakery — no little-girl cute, no look-at-me-I’m-so-hip / punk / sexy here at all. Just good music, intelligently interpreted and always swinging. And don’t let the gorgeous cover shot prejudice you against the elegant Ms. Kate: her CDs are about her voice, not her hair or her beautiful dress.
Here is Hetty’s Facebook page, and here is the website for the CD with Gordon. Both discs are on iTunes. Visit here and enjoy one-minute sound bites; visit the ABC site to purchase DIM ALL THE LIGHTS, and here to purchase the CD with Gordon — which is also available at CDBaby. (I know — life is complicated, especially for those of us used to dropping in at our local record stores and coming home with some new or old treasure. But Hetty’s CDs are worth the digging.)
It’s a critical commonplace to welcome the new artist at the start of “a brilliant career” to come. In Hetty Kate’s case, she is already singing brilliantly — a young artist with a mature, engaging sensibility.
May your happiness increase!