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The central challenge for traditional pop singers with jazz leanings since at least 1970 (and arguably since 1950) has concerned repertoire; that is, given that no one is writing the kind of songs that made up the Great American Songbook of the 1920s, '30s, and '40s anymore, and given that Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald have thoroughly raided those for definitive interpretations, what is there left to sing? Different singers have addressed the problem in different ways, but none may have ignored it quite as much as Kate McGarry, for whom If Less Is More...Nothing Is Everything is her fifth album. McGarry represents a generation that grew up listening to Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills & Nash for its sophisticated pop songcraft, and while she clearly presents herself as a jazz-influenced pop vocalist in the cabaret tradition, she is at least as sympathetic to the post-Bob Dylan singer/songwriter era as she is to the era of the Great American Songbook. The result, for her, is a sort of hybrid of the two. She leads off this album, for example, with Irving Berlin's "Let's Face the Music and Dance," but Fred Astaire would barely recognize it in this rendition, while Rickie Lee Jones might be tempted to sue for the crime of impersonation. The song is taken at a languid tempo, and McGarry slips and slurs her way through the song just like Jones did on so many of her performances of the late '70s and early '80s. (Indeed, Jones turns out to be the primary vocal influence on McGarry throughout the album. If "I Carry Your Heart" were added to a reissue of Jones' 1981 album, Pirates, with the claim that it was a previously unreleased track from its recording sessions, few would notice anything amiss.) "You're My Thrill," which follows, is McGarry's real claim to jazz legitimacy, a song associated with Billie Holiday that she sings with a sense of Sarah Vaughan's timing and phrasing as well as Ella Fitzgerald's bubbly intonation, plus a dab of Diane Schuur. McGarry's choice of covering the Cars' "Just What I Needed" is the second riskiest repertoire decision here, after Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'," but unlike that song, it doesn't quite work. Again, the Rickie Lee Jones influence is prominent, as the arrangement slows the tempo to a crawl so that McGarry can mull over lyrics like "It's not the perfume that you wear," perhaps giving the song a gay connotation, or at least an unusual one. More successful is a reading of Crosby, Stills & Nash's "You Don't Have to Cry," on which McGarry joins with singers Jo Lawry and Peter Eldridge for a very different vocal trio performance over a percussion arrangement. And the samba numbers, "Caminhos Cruzados" and "Flor de Lis," provide a welcome change of pace. McGarry is powerfully assisted by her backup band, particularly keyboard player Gary Versace, whose use of the organ provides surprising textures to some of the arrangements. McGarry doesn't entirely solve the repertoire problem on If Less Is More...Nothing Is Everything by pretending it doesn't exist. But she successfully pays tribute to the varied music she loves and manages some unexpected musical marriages in the process.
Performance CreditsKate McGarry Primary Artist,Vocals,Sruthi
Peter Eldridge Percussion,Vocals,Cardboard Box,Guest Appearance
John Lawry Violin,Triangle,Vocals,Guest Appearance
Clarence Penn Percussion,Drums
Donny McCaslin Saxophone,Guest Appearance
Reuben Rogers Bass
Gary Versace Organ,Piano,Accordion
Keith Ganz Guitar
Technical CreditsMatt Balitsaris Producer,Engineer
Bob Dylan Composer
Ric Ocasek Composer
Kate McGarry Arranger
Peter Eldridge Arranger
John Lawry Arranger
Keith Ganz Arranger