I’ve known both of these gloriously talented musicians for more than a decade, and have delighted in their live performances at festivals for that time. So I am delighted to report that their first full-length duo CD, TWO SONGBIRDS OF A FEATHER (Arbors ARCD 19447) is even better than I expected.
The facts? The CD was recorded in March 2015 (lively sound thanks to the ever-professional Jim Czak) with beautiful photographs and design by Brian Wittman. The band is Mike Renzi, piano; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Chuck Redd, drums; Nicki, bass; Becky, guitar on several tracks; Becky and Nicki, vocals and patter. The songs: TWO LITTLE GIRLS FROM LITTLE ROCK / TWO SONGBIRDS OF A FEATHER / RAY NOBLE MEDLEY / LIFE IS SO PECULIAR / WHEN LOVE GOES WRONG / S’WONDERFUL / Theme From VALLEY OF THE DOLLS / THEY SAY IT’S SPRING / BLUE MOON – MOONGLOW / THEM THERE EYES / A WOMAN’S PREROGATIVE / EL CAJON / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM.
First off. There isn’t a moment on this CD, whatever the mood or tempo, that doesn’t swing. And it’s a deep intuitive swing: take, for example, the a cappella chorus that begins WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM. With all due respect to the instrumental accompaniment — a fine band — Becky and Nicki are swinging in the best understated but authentic Basie manner when they utter the first syllable. And their voices — alternatively lighter, darker, flying, trading places in mid-air — go together perfectly, whether they are alternating phrases within a song, singing in unison or harmonizing. Each performance is full of small sweet surprises (including some witty banter) which makes the CD an old-fashioned experience, a “show” rather than simply two people standing at microphones and singing one song after another. One can hear that the routines have been carefully planned, but nothing is stiff or formal. They sound as if they are having a good time, fully enjoying the pleasures of music-making. The effect is never cute or artificial, but there is a good deal of cheerful play. And singers could learn so much from studying this disc.
Some highlights. Nicki and Becky essay some of their proven crowd-pleasers, with roots in Louis Jordan (PECULIAR) and the Marilyn Monroe songbook (LITTLE ROCK, WRONG) — but much of the material here is new to Kilgore-Parrott fanciers. There’s a clever arrangement of S’WONDERFUL, a racing romp on THEM THERE EYES, and several blissfully tender performances — the Ray Noble medley couldn’t be more sweet; VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is rueful and yearning; the BLUE MOON – MOONGLOW collation enables us to hear those familiar songs anew. And the title track, SONGBIRDS, has a lively chorus by Brian Wittman — living up to his name — a verse by Becky, music by Nicki. True group work! If there were still a network of hip radio stations, the performance of the Johnny Mandel – Dave Frishberg EL CAHON would be an instant classic.
The thirteen selections are wonderfully varied and paced, so the CD seems far too short. And the band rocks gorgeously around and with the singers.
I am being unsubtle when I say BUY THIS ONE, but occasionally subtlety is a burden. I received my copy yesterday and it is now playing for the fourth time. On the surface, it is an hour of joy: I think it is hours of that rare substance.
P.S. You’ll note — rare for me — that no videos accompany this posting. On camera, Nicki and Becky come across as the most hilariously swinging and endearing pair of vocal pals, sisters even. But even in the most expertly-done jazz party situations, they sing into a microphone, the sound goes through an engineering board, comes out of two large speakers, crosses the room, and is picked up by my camera’s trustworthy but small microphone. All this is to say, gently, that the videos often do not do singers’ voices justice — and the sound on this CD is so much more intimate and rich that I would do the disc a disservice by posting a video as evidence.
May your happiness increase!