Born in 1933, which makes her now 80 years old, if I told you Marlene VerPlanck was 30, you, on evidence of this recording, wouldn't doubt me for a millisecond, but that's hardly surprising, as the chanteuse has long been well known for a clear and lucid voice gifted—did I say "gifted"; actually I have no doubt she worked her rear off for it—with a pitch and tone that's sparklingly spot-on. Ballads…Mostly is Marlene's 22nd CD and her backlog of credits would make the sturdiest road vet gasp: not only did she once sing with Charlie Spivack and Tommy Dorsey but also worked extensively as a studio backing vocalist, and you've heard her on hundreds of commercials and probably never even knew it. More, she's appeared as backup for everyone from Sinatra to—and, no, I ain't kiddin' here—Kiss. Hey, even Gene Simmons knows a great voice when he hears one!
The bulk of this disc is a tribute to Cy Coleman and his extensive repertoire, songs often written with partner Carolyn Leigh and others. The late Coleman's another now-largely-unsung workhorse whose credits are impressive as hell: nominated for more Tonys than God, he won 5 of them along with 3 Emmys and 2 Grammys. And in his Baby, Dream Your Dream is where you'll find one of the best examples of what it means to have as refined a voice as VerPlanck possesses, especially in the closing moments where she holds her notes perfectly, making them as delicate and translucent as glass. In terms of purity, she's in a league with opera singers—not in terms of grandiosity but in fidelities to classical values and refinement of man's first musical "instrument", the voice.
I'll warn the reader that there's no skoobly-op on this disc, no grandiose excesses, no gimmicks and no BS, just plain, pure, out-n-out singing of a kind we thought had perished from the Earth but seems to be seeing a very slow renaissance among jazz singers lately. If so, then its present proponents have people like VerPlanck to thank for having held the line. I usually pass material like this by, 'cause I love scat and highly stylized work, but, when I first listened to Ballads…Mostly, I put it aside 'cause I was puzzled and not sure why I should be. Well, it was because there's precious little truly refined vocal music like this around any more, anywhere, and especially in this mode. Thus, when I tell you that several distinguished musicians—Claudio Roditi, Houston Person, Mike Renzi, Jay Leonhart—sit in, you'll know precisely why they contribute flawlessly apposite performances and never once step over the line, keeping everything in tune with ver Planck's presence.
She'll probably send a hit squad after me for revealing her age, but, once more, that anyone can do this so damn pristinely and masterfully at 80 is nothing short of drop-dead amaaaaaazing. Someone needs to find out what on Earth her secret is and let the rest of us know. My guess? She discovered the Fountain of Youth.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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