Barbara Lea

Barbara Lea and Keith Ingham Are Mad About the Boy: The Songs of Noel of Coward

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The assumption of this tribute album's producers is that the music of Noël Coward is generally undervalued, especially by jazz musicians. They believe that Coward's songs are as susceptible to jazz treatment as those by the Gershwins, Kern, and Berlin. Artie Shaw's swing arrangement of "Zigeuner" is cited to "prove" that Coward's work can be jazzed up. Challenge Records has compiled 20 songs from Coward's productions covering the period 1928 to 1961. Highly admired cabaret singer Barbara Lea and accompanist supreme Keith Ingham work mightily to validate the producer's assumption. While not strictly jazz musicians, they certainly have a jazzy ambience about their work. Several of Coward's better-known tunes, like "Mad About the Boy," "Someday I'll Find You," "I'll Follow My Secret Heart," and "Zigeuner" are featured on the album. Ingham does some fine stride piano playing on "Poor Little Rich Girl," making it one of the highlights of the album. Lea, who has been performing since the '50s, comes from the vocal tradition that lyrics should be sung straight without distorting them with such vocal techniques as scatting and swooping. Other notable vocalists holding that performing philosophy include Mabel Mercer, Sylvia Sims, Elisabeth Welch, and Lee Wiley. On this album, Lea is at the top of her game. So why doesn't this disc make it? Because the music of Noël Coward, genius or no, can't support a 72-minute CD. While some of the cuts are quite witty, like "Chase Me Charlie" and the misadventures of "Nina," most of them mirror the trials and tribulations of the world-weary, dissolute, and bored, as revealed in the likes of "If Love Were All" and the aptly named "World Weary." Most of what Coward wrote is just not that musically interesting, and has not aged well. Nonetheless, for Coward devotees, it's not likely they will come upon more accomplished interpretations of his music than those dispensed on this album by Lea and Ingham.

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