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March 30, 1995 - Image 21

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The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - Thursday, March 30, 1995 - 7

Voices rise on Varese

By Melissa Rose Bernardo
Daily Theater Editor
In its newly christened yet quickly
growing Broadway canon, Varese
Sarabande adds to its spotlight series
with some exciting new releases. Pro-
ducer Bruce Kimmel has enlisted two
of the musical theater's strongest fe-
male voices for solo albums, Sally
Mayes and Judy Kuhn. And both prove
they are voices--and theatrical forces
- to be reckoned with.
"Our Private World: Sally
Mayes sings Comden & Green" was
released in conjunction with the 50th
anniversary of the collaboration of
Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the
gifted American lyricists. And what
better celebration than the explosive
combination of Comden and Green's
(C & G) picturesque wit and Sally
Mayes' trademark sophistication?
An intriguing trivia bit: With the
exception of Blossom Dearie's 1959
recording, there are no special tribute
recordings of C & G's work. How
many Stephen Sondheim tributes are
there? And he hasn't been composing
for 50 years. (Not that I'm complain-
ing about the multitude of Sondheim
collections!)
So Mayes' collection is not only
timely, but also a musical historical
necessity. The musical numbers run
the gamut from popular C & G hits to
hidden gems, including "On the Twen-
tieth Century," "Do-Re-Mi," "Won-
derful Town," "Bells are Ringing"
and "On the Town," the stage and
film versions. Composers represented
include Cy Coleman, Jule Styne, Larry
Grossman and Leonard Bernstein.
Mayes infuses every lyric with
freshness, unpredictability and wicked
comic timing - the same qualities
that made her Ilona in "She Loves
Me" (the 1993 Broadway revival) so
exciting. Vocally Mayes is flawless,
as per usual.
There's a funsy version of "The
Party's Over," and terrific interpreta-
tions of "I Can Cook Too" and "The
Party's Over." Mayes is aided by the
smart arrangements of Patrick Brady,
who also contributes additional vo-
cals here and there.
"Just in Time: Judy Kuhn sings
Jule Styne" It still amazes me that
Judy Kuhn is not a household name
when it comes to Broadway. Hercred-
its are more than impressive: "Chess"
(Broadway cast), "Les Mistrables"
(original Broadway cast), "She Loves

Me" (the 1993 Broadway revival),
"Sunset Boulevard" (American pre-
miere). Unfortunately, she can only
be heard on two of those recordings,
"Chess" and "Les Misdrables." How-
ever, audiences across the country
. will soon be listening to Kuhn, when
she provides the voice of the title
character in Walt Disney's animated
musical, "Pocohantas."
In the meantime, Kuhn fans should
now have their fill. "Just in Time" is an
absolutely gorgeous recording from start
to finish, and one of the best Broadway
singer solo albums I've ever heard.
Kuhn has selected an eclectic mix
of Styne songs from the standard
"Funny Girl," "Bells are Ringing,"
"Gypsy" and the lesser-known
"Sweater Girl," "Anchors Aweigh,"
"It Happened in Brooklyn" and "Sis
Hopkins." She does wonders with a
stunning medley of "It's Been a Long
Time" and "Just in Time," and breaks
hearts with a simple "Look at You,
Look at Me."
Kuhn utilizes most of her ample
range here, doing the required belting
with "Everything's Coming up Roses"
and singing in the stratospheres on "I
Said No." Wherever on the scale the
music takes her, Kuhn maintains a
clarity and intonation no other Broad-
way singer can match. All over her
work there is an overtone of wisdom,
grace and unalloyed skill.
Kuhn also takes a few liberties with
the works, experimenting with tempo
and tone. "Everything's Coming Up-
Roses" is slower than Rose ever sings it
in "Gypsy," but Kuhn's energy carries
the held-back tempo with ease. She also
does a marvelous version of "You'll
Never Get Away from Me," which
echoes a calypso song.
Famed English director Trevor
Nunn has written a glowing liner let-
ter, in which he suggests that some-
one should write a musical version of
Anton Chekhov's "Three Sisters" so
that Kuhn can play Masha, or of Ten-
nessee Williams' "Streetcar Named
Desire" so she can play Blanche. And
those of us who know Kuhn know
that she could do either - and make
it look and sound easy.
"Tell everybody you meet that a
unique American artist is in our midst,
about to reveal her greatness," writes
Nunn. Judy Kuhn has been revealing
her greatness for about eight years now
- but now she's just going to get some
well-deserved recognition for it.

,,udy Kuhn has released her debut solo album, "Just In Time: Judy Kuhn sings Jute Styne," for Varese Sarabande records and Its Spotlight Series.
Monroe box show cases ability of bluegrass legyend

By Dirk Shuize
Daily Arts Writer
Make no bones about it: Bill Mon-
roe invented bluegrass music. Argue
until doomsday over the relative im-
portance of Elvis Presley to rock 'n'
oll or King Oliver's contributions to
jazz but there is simply no arguing
Monroe's title as the Father of Blue-
grass. Before him, there simply was
no bluegrass. There can be no under-
estimation where he is concerned, as
attested to by two recent anthologies
of his work.
Columbia/Legacy offers adetailed
look at four of Monroe's most impor-
eant years in its two-disc collection,
"The Essential Bill Monroe and His
Bluegrass Boys (1945-1949)" while
MCA opts for a more far-reaching
approach with a four-CD box entitled
"The Music of Bill Monroe" that cov-
ers everything from his first record-
ings with his older brother in 1936 to
a previously unreleased tune recorded
last year. Both are extremely well-
one, assembled in a manner to offer
loth newcomers and long-time fans
something into which they can sink
their teeth.
"The Essential Bill Monroe" fo-
cuses only on the sides that Monroe
cut while spending four years with
Columbia Records. Neverbefore have
these cuts been presented with such
care and detail to the original sound
quality. Those that have turned up on
*inyl collections over the years have
frequently suffered from false stereo
treatment orshoddy remastering. Here
at last, then, is a high quality presen-
tation of these seminal recordings.
Of the 40 tracks on the Legacy set,
nearly half are presented in the form
of unreleased alternate takes. This
approach can be either revelatory, as
in the case of "Goodbye Old Pal,"
'thich finds the band kicking the tune
much harder than the "official" take
or rather disappointing, as Monroe's
rather uninspired solo turns in "Blue-
grass Special" show why he re-re-
corded it.
What is surprising is how nearly
identical the instrumental breaks of
two different takes of a song tend to
be, proving that there' was a bit less

improvisation encouraged than was
once thought. Monroe was a strict
bandleader and somewhat of a per-
fectionist (a take of "True Life Blues"
was redone when guitarist Tex Willis
sang one incorrect word), a personal-
ity trait that may have contributed to
the numerous lineup changes of the
Bluegrass Boys, all of which are docu-
mented in the six sessions covered in
this anthology.
Regardless of the relative merits
of different takes, what always shines
is the monumental force and talent of
Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys. Not
only were they inventing a musical
genre as they recorded, but they did it
with absolute aplomb as well, every-
thing from Monroe's driving mando-
lin to Chubby Wise's flying fiddle
mixing perfectly into the heady brew
of rocking instrumentals, laments and
waltzes owing equal debts to country,
gospel, jazz and Appalachian moun-
tain music.
The appeal ofMCA's set lies in its
size. Its four discs chart the very birth
and development of bluegrass, from
the country harmonies of Monroe and
his brother Charlie (represented here
by two tracks, "What Would You
Give in Exchange" and "My Long
Journey Home") to the charged solos
of the 1954 instrumental "Wheel
Hoss," and from his first performance
on the Grand Ol' Opry ("Muleskinner
Blues") to the ensemble sound of '88's
"Take Courage Un' Tomorrow." In
between are countless amazing man-
dolin breaks (witness "Lonesome

Road Blues" or the swinging treat-
ment of "Sittin' On Top of the World")
where Monroe defies all mandolin
players to keep up with either his
blinding speed or his seemingly end-
less creativity.
Even Monroe took the occasional
misstep, however. Just as his poi-
gnant runs on '81 's "My Last Days on
Earth" begin to work their magic, for
example, an overbearing string sec-
tion moves in, accompanied by surf
sounds that cheese the otherwise
moving piece into kitsch. That "My
Last Days on Earth" is the only cut of
the 98 included in the anthology that
feels untrue is yet another testament
to the man's talent. Some tracks may
feel a bit pedestrian but only because
they share company with so many
perfectly-rendered standards.
If only because it covers so much
ground, the four disc "Music of Bill
Monroe" is probably the best place to
start (or finish) a collection of the

man's work. Through its size, it can
reveal shades of Monroe's work that
a simple greatest hits compilation
could not and its liner notes are ex-
tremely comprehensive, even if a
touch hard to read. Legacy's "The
Essential Bill Monroe" is historically
more relevant, presenting Monroe in
the middle of what became first blue-
grass and then a bluegrass explosion
but its choice of a few less-inspired
alternate takes renders it more suit-
able to a more well-versed Monroe
collector. When it comes time for
Monroe to cut loose on a solo, how-
ever, all distinctions between the two
become purely background noise to
the majesty of the man who invented
bluegrass.

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