And Eddie Skuller.
Skuller too has his own cult following of listeners who are drawn into the darkness before the dawn suggested by the angst shining through his singing. His performances consist too of notes drawn out to edge-of-one’s-seat length and words that bear universal emotional weight suggesting recovery from or at least perspective upon at worst great suffering and at least hurt feelings.
And so, Skuller has acknowledged the Jimmy Scott influence as he has compiled an album of songs dedicated to that unique singer of much presence and absence, largely due to contractual disputes, during the 57 years of Scott’s career. Not only has Skuller paid due deference with a selection of well-known Jimmy Scott songs like "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" (recalling Scott’s years in an orphanage), but also Skuller has included a wish list of songs that he would like to hear Scott sing someday. These songs include George Harrison’s "Give Me Love" or Bob Dylan’s "Not Dark Yet," which conform to the drama/comedy-mask concept sustaining Somebody’s Fool.
Even without reading the press release accompanying the album, it’s evident to the listener that Skuller owes a great deal to Scott. But the important point is that Skuller’s voice can capture the listener’s attention on its own merits, even as he pays tribute.
"Lilac Wine" provides more than sufficient evidence of Skuller’s ability to allow a song to emerge from within. He starts the song without accompaniment, drawing the listener into its possibilities by mesmerizing while introducing the song’s narrative with effective use of dynamics.... and as always, the long drawn-out notes from which every possible nuance of feeling is wrung. By the time that Skuller’s back-up group comes in with quarter-note accompaniment, thereby allowing Skuller to ease the tension, he already has set up the listener’s wonder in the direction he will take the song. Skuller’s dark side captures the horrors of the imagery within Billie Holiday’s "Strange Fruit," a song that Holiday owns but which Skuller effectively borrows. Charlie Chaplin’s "Smile" summarizes the feeling of Skuller’s singing that of the external trappings of joyfulness covering pain within: "Light up your face with gladness. / Hide every trace of sadness / Although a tear may be / Ever so near."
Sounds melodramatic, doesn’t it? Well, it is. But when memorably done with concision and conviction as Chapin did with "Smile" and as Scott has done throughout his career.... and as Skuller does with Somebody’s Fool audiences identify with the ups and downs of the songs’ rhyming narrations.
Backed by a rhythm section that shares Skuller’s intent to allow the lyrics to speak for themselves, but with heart-rending vocal enhancement, the music of Happy Heartache no doubt comes from within the soul of Skuller and, even if it weren’t a tribute, would be nonetheless affecting. Well done, Eddie Skuller. Thank you, Jimmy Scott.