Composer Vincent Youmans surely ranks among the cream of composers of American popular songs. Sadly, a series of unfortunate show failures and a bout with tuberculosis brought his career as a songwriter to a close only a mere decade or so after it began. Yet in his library of roughly 100 songs are such gems as "Tea For Two", "I Want To Be Happy", "Without A Song", "I Know that You Know", "More Than You Know", "Sometimes I'm Happy", and "Time On My Hands."
In her standing tradition of "songbook" albums, torch singer Barbara Lea
has added Barbara Lea and Keith Ingham Celebrate Vincent Youmans
, a lengthy tribute which features both well-known and obscure gems from his musical career. Pianist Ingham is joined by renowned guitarist James Chirillo and bassist Greg Cohan. Ingham's talents as a traditional stride pianist are also features on several cuts, and particularly on "Hallelujah!".
As with Lea's earlier efforts, most of the tempos on this CD are medium to ballad (though the band swings sweetly on "Oh Me, Oh My" and "Rise and Shine", and plays a rollicking rhumba on "The Carioca") and the atmosphere is definitely relaxed. Lea sings in a very subdued style, covering the melody of the songs and never engaging in vocal acrobatics. Lea enjoys ingesting the entirety of a song before she sings it, and she includes obscure verses on most of these performances. Since the verse so often adds to or even changes the meaning of a well-known chorus, I have always appreciated singers who use them. Her lyrical interpretations leave little guesswork as to the focus and message of the song. She is also not above altering the melody or phrasing of a song in order to squeeze a little extra out of the lyric.
As she approaches her 75th year, Barbara Lea continues to please audiences by singing the music that she loves in the way that she loves. Comparison to older recordings reveals a slight unevenness in her voice, but her passion for the songs and her talent for understanding and communicating the heart of a lyric make her physical limitations inconsequential. Any listener who loves standards or singing from the golden era of jazz will thoroughly enjoy this effort.