Album review — Stevie Holland, Life Goes On
Donald considers the making of a fantastic record, applying his criteria to a recent release by jazz singer Stevie Holland. -- the artblog editors

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A great album should combine many aspects: promising artistic talent; a solid theme; and how each song stacks together sonically. On her new record Life Goes On (which came out June 30), jazz vocalist Stevie Holland presents a collection of original songs, standards, and lesser-known songs from popular music and the Great American Songbook. While this album features great talent and songs that flow pretty well, there isn’t a consistent theme to support all of the wonderful music-making on display.

Holland’s history

Stevie Holland
Stevie Holland.

On Life Goes On, Holland is joined by a gifted jazz trio consisting of Randy Ingram on piano, Peter Brendler on bass, and Jeff Davis on drums. Celebrated trumpeter Nicholas Payton delivers solos, which make for great melodies all on their own merit, on three tunes. Arrangements were done by award-winning composer Gary William Friedman and Grammy-winning producer Todd Barkan (who has produced Holland’s past albums).

Holland has headlined at major concert halls, jazz clubs and cabaret rooms, in addition to performing in theater, developing a diverse fan base in the process. Her previous studio album, Before Love Has Gone, received acclaim from jazz, pop, and cabaret critics alike, and made the critic’s list as a Top CD of the Year at USA Today and as an Album Pick by All Music Guide.

The album kicks off with “Skylark,” a Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael tune, which begins with a soft, mysterious piano introduction before Holland and the trio get things up and swinging. Fun fact about “Skylark”: According to Skylark: The Life and Times of Johnny Mercer by Philip Furia, Johnny Mercer wrote this song with his affair with Hollywood icon Judy Garland fresh in his mind.

The write stuff

Stevie Holland
Stevie Holland.

“Out Of This World” and “99 Miles from LA” have gorgeous arrangements for string quartet. The arrangement for “Out Of This World” oozes peaceful romanticism and makes me feel as if I’m sipping a hot cup of chamomile tea outside a coffee shop in Paris. On “Tea for Two,” there is a great interplay between Holland and the bassist. Holland is in a tight pocket here–in complete control of the song’s intricate rhythm.

“Never” and “Tomorrow’s Looking Brighter Today” serve as the two original songs co-written by Holland on the record. The latter is an uplifting, slow swing tune (with an especially catchy bridge) urging, “You and I will find a better way.” I believe that a well-written bridge can make or break a song. This is definitely a case in which the bridge is striking enough on its own ground, and “TLBT” is that much better because of it. These two songs were among my favorites on the album–I encourage Holland to further flex her writing muscles and include more than just two original songs on her future releases.

“Not While I’m Around” (from Stephen Sondheim’s classic Broadway musical, Sweeney Todd) crossed over into the jazz world when vocalist Kurt Elling covered it on his Flirting With Twilight album. Now Holland puts her own spin on it, finding a new way to make this musical theater favorite remain haunting and profound without the creepiness of its source material. When she reaches her top register in the song with “but in time,” her voice transfers into a rawness that makes one feel a sense of uncertainty.

Stevie Holland
Stevie Holland.

Holland has a wonderfully lush tone to her voice, and I admire that she doesn’t waste any opportunity to interpret a lyric with great attention to the character of every song. Life Goes On isn’t trying to say anything particularly new, or push any new boundaries in the genre of jazz. The album instead rests on the strengths of Holland’s voice and songs that will never be forgotten.

For more information on Stevie Holland and her new album, Life Goes On, visit her official website at stevieholland.com or follow her on Twitter @stevieholland.

Tags

arts & culture, jazz, life goes on, music, stevie holland

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