The Empress of the Torch-Song!

Review by Michael D’Antoni

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People have been singing ever since we discovered that we had voices. Of course, a lot about singing has changed since then. Through the centuries, as our series of musical sounds began to mature and become more sophisticated, different cultures around the world developed their own individual styles, rhythms, scales and modes. The results were regionalistically distinct varieties of music and singing manners that clearly emerged.

America was no exception, for it developed many unique, refined and pleasingly jingoistic art forms. Blues and Jazz are just two of those varietals.  These two classic American musical paradigms were born in the south from a combination of slave spirituals and inspirational southern church music and are clearly defined by their individual composition, style and form.

Many refer to Jazz as Blues’ slightly more sophisticated child who never forgot its roots. Jazz singing is characterized by clear speech level singing with distinct consonants, while Blues singing has a rough or root like edge to it, sometimes with natural southern accents. All the while both continually to experiment with vocal sounds and styles like pitch slides and scatting. Similarly, emerging from Jazz was another vocal style or arm failed. “Torch Songs”.

Torch Songs are traditionally sentimental love songs that are typically associated with the singer’s laments for a lost love. The term Torch Song comes from the saying, to carry a torch for someone, or to keep a flame or light for an unrequited or lost love.

But it’s more than that. To call “Torch” singing an arm of Jazz is a bit unfair as it’s more of a niche than it is an overall genre and can at times casually stray from the traditional Jazz influenced style of singing. All the while this American lyrical tradition, known as the Torch Song rhythmically relies upon the melodic structure of Blues and Jazz as well.

All that being said, what is important to remember about these styles is that one simply can not sing any of them correctly without knowing their history.  AND, my ONLY knowing the history in your MIND but feeling the rich history in your HEART as well! Then once that is achieved, the artist must do even MORE, as they NEED to wear that history, like a badge of honor, on their sleeve all while vocally spilling their emotional guts to the audience every single time…and like never before!

REV. MARY gave us all this and more!

john.jpgLast night at “Don’t Tell Mama’s” Brick Room was one of those rare and unique events where we were treated to that deep well heeled history of the aforementioned musical styles while passionately enjoying all the sentiment and soulful nuances that these purely American genres have to offer.

alan.jpgThe venue was warm, charming and inviting where “REV. MARY THE LADY IN BLACK” (and her band) got underway. This Crowned Empress of soft and sultry vocals, who last night was simply referred to as the “Lady in Black”, thrilled the audience to vintage songs. Every single song was delivered straight from her heart!  Warm, inviting and at times very funny, it was as if REV. MARY lissomely opened the hatch to her inner chamber and the words gracefully floated to the surface. And what we received was nothing less than stunning lyrical renditions of songs, some of which I have not heard in years.

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Musical director, Dan Furman, enjoying a moment with Marilyn Maye after the performance.

The evenings repertoire included the likes of; The 1942 Johnny Mercer hit “I Remember You”. The Buddy Johnson 1945 trifecta classic (Blues, Jazz & Pop) “Since I Fell for You”. Victor Young’ s beautifully mellifluent composition “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You” which in it’s time (1932) was recorded by a number of popular artists including Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby & Billy Holiday. We also were treated to The Sarah Vaughan charted 1948 “Black Coffee” written by Sonny Burke. The 1953 Sam Cooke American standard “Cry Me a River”. And finally, the welcome surprise of the evening was the blues standard once called one of the most durable R&B compositions ever written, the Elmore James quintessential “The Sky is Crying”.

MARY ELIZABETH MICARI (REV. MARY) delivers as the passionate Queen of Torch Songs. Her welcoming voice was perfect for last nights setting. Powerful, fluid, riveting all the while  aesthetically rich and full bodied.

At times “THE REV.” used smooth pitch slides to accentuate fain tranquil parts of the powerful classics she presented. Sensitive with easy tones, at times almost nonchalant, REV. MARY effortlessly shows off an impressive range with some great vocal improvisational skills, simply by jumping up to a random note while remaining in the song’s key.

With DAN FURMAN (pianist/musical direction), ALAN LIGHTY (guitar) & JOHN “Rim Shot” DINELLO (drums) as instrumental backup, all were consummate professionals delivering the perfect musical corroboration and solo interludes. REV. MARY is unquestionably a great example of an artist who loves what she does and knows how to make people feel the love she holds for her craft. She left us all yearning for more and loving Blues and Jazz even more now than when we walked in.

I could have listened all night with reverence as the ambient air was electrified with melodic songs of yesteryear. For the room was filled with so much energy and talent, the weight of which could have easily razed the building level!

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