Saturday, March 8, 2014

Laura, It Was Only A Dream (Music Review: Laura Austin Wiley, They Say It's Wonderful)

When Tower Records was still alive, they used to have a jazz vocals section. I remember I used to go there and see all these "unknown" jazz vocalists have albums of standards and wonder to myself, "who the hell are these people"?  That was not a diss, of course, because, I would sample some of these albums blindly, and indeed some of them are horrid,(or worse, generic) but I also have to admit that I discovered a lot of my life-long favorites from these risky acquisitions. I remember I used to have a certain criteria how I choose the ones I used to get: if an album is Harold Arlen heavy, for example, it's a plus point for them (ditto for anything Rodgers & Hart heavy)  I used to steer clear of albums that do not feature a picture of the singer, but at the same time, I was wary of albums that rely too much on the singer's looks. So when Laura Austin Wiley's album "They Say It's Wonderful" fell on my lap, I was curious. First of all, I am not a big fan of butterflies, and those were prominently featured on the album cover.  And, well, the cover also does not feature her face, so I wonder, why not? I tried to be as objective as possible, not even googling her before listening to the album. The song selection is fine, if on the uninspired side. So play, play, play. She has a very "musical" voice, and I can tell it's a trained one, as opposed to a natural one. She sings a bit more on the technical side, but her phrasing isn't bad, so there's a little more there there. The arrangements are well-done, and I like ti's a bit folky, too. She's jazzy, for sure, I hear a lot of improvisation, and a lot of it seems pretty natural. I particularly liked her takes on "Hey There," and "Speak Low." She plays the flute, and there was an extended flute section on "Speak Low" that I thought was very good. And she includes verses, which is always a plus for me. But all in all, the album tend to be on the bland side, there really weren't any moments when I sat up and got really curious. I get a sense that she would be better in a live setting, and I finally checked her website to see that she plays a lot in the San Francisco area. That might be a better representation of her artistry than this album. If I had bought this at Tower Records, the album probably would have been buried in a pile.