It is difficult to think about or even write about Susan Werner without attaching a string of superlatives to her name: accomplished vocalist, talented pianist, gifted songwriter, polished performer, renowned wit and famous beauty among them. Whether you are in the audience taking in a performance, or listening to a tune spin at home, on your p.c., or iPod, Susan Werner captures your attention. Werner's new recording, I Can't Be New, adds a new superlative to the list: creative force.
There is a phrase that has become popular about making things that are old new again. In the case of the classic era of the popular song, Werner takes the rhythms, the idioms and the style of music of the great songwriters of the era - Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin to name a few - and reinvents them for the 21st century, in her own voice and language. Like a fine wine and a classic perfume, the songs retain the touch, taste and feel of a romantic era that lingers still.
The CD opens brilliantly with the title cut, I Can't Be New. It is evocative of the witty lyrics and rhymes of the great Cole Porter, but in a very contemporary way, it addresses the issue of boredom in an old relationship and how one might make it new again. Werner's skill as a lyricist, twisting and turning witticisms and metaphors, is both remarkable and full of fun.
Seeing You Again is simply a wonderfully delivered and played feel good song - something I can imagine the great Louis Armstrong singing.
I'm Not Sure is another of those songs with a classic, Spanish-influenced melody accompanied by Steve Sadler on mandolins and the wonderful Hatfield Five on strings. What makes it striking, even memorable, are lyrics like these:
A little bit of jazz, a dash of pop, and a smattering of scat singing make You Come Through one of the recording's best cuts. Duke Levine on accompanying guitar and the unmistakable stamp of Billy Novick's tenor sax make this one so light and fun with a subtle bit of sophistication care of Werner's appealing, supple vocals.
Crit Harmon, who produced Martin Sexton's groundbreaking Black Sheep, holds the reins on this project as well. He has painstakingly assembled a group of studio musicians that are the best in their respective genres: Duke Levine on guitar, Billy Novick on tenor sax, Brad Hatfield from the Boston Pops Orchestra, Dave Mattacks from Fairport Convention and Harry Belafonte's bassist, John Lockwood, among others.
Susan Werner deserves the highest praise for creating this labor of love. All of the songs are original Werner compositions that bring something fresh and new, and endlessly listenable to a public that may not be familiar with the golden age of song. Rod Stewart, Cyndi Lauper, and k d lang have all scored big with recent cover albums of classic popular music. But only Susan Werner reinvented the genre in her own inimitable style. Long live the chanteuse, and love live the popular song. I Can't Be New is a triumph!
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