We Baby Boomers are a persnickety bunch. We revel in our nostalgia while keeping a jaundiced eye on current trends and how derivative they are compared with those we experienced when they were really new. Critics dismiss this nostalgia as wasted pathos, pining away for what can never be again. That is missing the point. Memory and reminiscence are powerful comforts much like a cat’s purr. They help us recall and allow us to put the past into perspective in the relative safety of our own minds and time.
Music proves to be a most potent generator of nostalgia. Most properly, it acts as our life soundtrack, the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” in turbulent times and Vivaldi’s “Winter” when calm. A well-programmed collection of songs, housed within a thoughtful theme can be a most effective nostalgia stimulant. Such programming maximizes the joy and pleasure of the music above and beyond the songs considered individually.
It is this invention in programming and repertoire choice that makes singer Lyn Stanley accomplished by any measure. Her debut recording, Lost in Romance (Self-Produced, 2013) revealed the singer’s keen ear for the well-known and not-so-well-known in the American Songbook. By including the less known songs, Stanley has effectively expanded the Songbook, something she continues on Potions: From the ’50s.
On Potions, Stanley assembles 15 pieces prominent in the 1950s. They are not all jazz standards or showtunes, though both are in evidence. Stanley’s artistic care and attention to detail expresses itself from the start in George Shearing’s superb “Lullaby of Birdland.” Pianist Bill Cunliffe consorts with bassist Mike Valerio and drummer John Robinson, establishing a light Latin vibe over which Stanley delivers George David Weiss’ piquant lyrics. Tom Rainer provides a woody clarinet to the mix, making the piece quite international. “Cry Me a River” is taken at a ballad pace, accented by Ricky Woodards’s tenor saxophone. The effect is close, smoky, intimate.
Stanley’s nod to Sinatra is in a sprite and bouncy “Fly Me to the Moon. The singer assimilates the country and western of Eddy Arnold’s “You Don’t Know Me” and the early New Orleans rock of Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin,'” Bill Cunliffe and guitarist Thom Rotella trading eights in the solo section. Central to the collection’s theme is Leiber & Stoller’s “Love Potion #9.” Stanley pulls a sexy samba out of the tune, propelled by Kenny Werner’s piano and Hammond B3. Stanley punctuates the disc with a delicate and revealed “Misty” that showcases her command of all things ballad.
The music industry is changing so quickly and seems moving away from the cogently produced arranged album format. That is too bad. On Potions, Stanley perfects the thematic ring of her collection, adding one more bit of the past, analog recording. Music this warm should be bonded like fine brandy heated by the smoke of a Monte Cristo.