When Lisa Kirchner last appeared in these pages (here), I commented that though production credits went missing, it appeared she was the top dawg in the process and that this element appeared to endow the outing with its several defects among many strengths. This time, out, she is indeed the producer, and the difference, in just one year, is highly discernable. Recruiting an intriguing new backing band loaded with notables who were unafraid to mess around with the traditional aspects of the fare, the entirety of Umbrellas in Mint is everything that Charleston for You pointed towards. This is shown very early in A Billion Stars Ago (In the Shadow of a Crow), the second cut and an excellently blended mélange of cabaret, stage, and jazz, upbeat and reflective simultaneously, with even a short injection of delightfully contrasty bump and grind just before the number fades.
Every song here was in fact written by the wild-maned Kirchner and, for me, brings back tangs of the underlauded Robert Kraft, among others, as the Carmichaelish What About You? (LOVE that "A ceiling at midnight, where stars shine on cue" line!) demonstrates. A wide palette of world influences invade the entire cycle here, subordinated beautifully to the dominantly Broadway ambiance. Don't know what happened in the past year, but Kirchner got waaaaay the hell serious, not only maturing miles beyond expectations, but immersive in the literacy of her chosen milieu. Part of the credit goes to the immaculate choice of musicians (I could've done with a bit more of guitarist Ron Jackson, whose offbeat tempo play is intriguing for its colorations, but, hey, the emphasis is rightly on Kirchner's vocals, lyrical narrative, and cinematic textures), but then it also must be noted that they're rightly operating within her parameters, which have cinched up the aesthete factor rather breathtakingly.
Expect generous doses of Rogers & Hart, Brel, Hammerstein, and a bunch of others in the Songbook milieu, but there are also a number of surprisingly Brechtian tinges, as Kirchner's unafraid of the shadows populating boulevards and hearts. She knows those darksome dimensions are just wellsprings, and saxist Sherman Irby leans into 'em more than once, often with a suppressed grin, lighting up the corners. In sum, Umbrellas is an exhilarating escapade, a collection of songs wrought for a stage musical yet to be put beneath the lights, but, now having heard the disc, I'm not so sure that's even necessary, as the CD does quite well on its own, needing no further explication…though it'd be intriguing as hell to see what could be done with them visually.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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