Sandra Lawrence

Noiresque: The Lonely Fate of the Femme Fatale

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If Noiresque: The Lonely Fate of the Femme Fatale is any indication, Sandra Lawrence (aka Miss Volare) put her film studies degree to excellent use. The British chanteuse who fronts the Glenn Miller memorial orchestra in France and her own hard-swinging band, the Vendettas, has issued an album of steamy tunes centered around the ultimate cinematic cipher: the femme fatale. That Miss Volare was an actress before becoming a singer adds to the pleasure, drama, and sleek aura of shadow that pervade the album. Arranged by saxophonist Al Nicholls, 11 of the 12 cuts here were written by cream-of-the-crop composers of the film noir era: Johnny Mercer with John Williams, Lester Lee and Bob Russell, Frank DeVol, Lester Lee and Ned Washington, Mercer with David Raksin, and more. Almost all of the selections were inspired by the movies themselves, and the one that isn't was inspired by the entire genre. Here are stunningly rendered versions of "Laura," "The Long Goodbye," "Temptation," "Blue Gardenia," "I'd Rather Have the Blues," "Letter From a Lady in Love," "From Man to Man," and others. The charts are phenomenal; Lawrence's singing opens a dialogue that has confounded, enthused, titillated, and troubled filmgoers for decades: What about the femme fatale? Lawrence sets out to offer not an explanation so much as an aural portrait of the mysteries, paradoxes, and heartaches of this most necessary anti-heroine, without whom the genre would not exist. The disc is paced between the drama and pathos and flaunty, theatrical aspects of the woman Lawrence seems to understand on a cellular level. Lawrence's voice is big; she projects and enunciates like few singers today and doesn't fall into the Julie London trap of breathing her lyrics. Her performance of "The Long Goodbye" may, over time and with enough exposure, become the definitive version. This journey is visceral, graced with humor and sensual pleasure, and is full of surprises. The band's own "The Longer Goodbye," a suite-like jam, takes the original tune; moves it into different terrains, such as tarantella, tango, and mariachi; and extrapolates enough to make it one hell of a jazz number that is equal parts smokey blues, burlesque, and cabaret before slipping through swing and bop. While this is not Lawrence's debut, it is Miss Volare's, and a very auspicious one it is. Noiresque is as tough as a smoking gun in the hands of Faye Dunaway in a black velvet dress, as feminine as a shadow, as mysterious as a wink from Dana Andrews, as sly as a card dealt by Lauren Bacall, and as deadly as the kiss from spiderwoman Gaby Rogers. In other words, Noiresque is marvelous from start to finish.

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