On the new album, "Learn to Smile Again," from the Susie Arioli band, there is a sound--a sound that you do not usually hear on recordings. It's faint, but there. What is it you ask? Perhaps it's something that should have been taken off the final product. The sound is breathing--Susie Arioli's breathing to be exact, and it's there because it's supposed to be. In fact, the band asked to have it left there.
"There was a guy we had worked with on this recording that we had worked with before," Arioli said, "and he wanted to clean the recording up and eliminate the breathing, but we said leave it we kind of like it." That is the key to this recording, it's very personal--so much so, that you feel as if you are in the room, not just an impersonal observer. It's this quality that draws you in and makes you feel the numbers, not just hear them--a rare feat in these days of over-produced, homogenized recordings.
"Can I do it, does it sound nice, and does it fit?" These are the questions that Arioli asks before she records material. She says that things have to fit the "vibe" of the recording and that when she first heard a recording a friend gave her and Officer by Roger Miller, she was "overwhelmed" by them. "There is a hurt in his voice," says Arioli. "Its as if he has been so hurt by what is going on in the song, that it touches you very deeply."
Arioli says that Jordan Officer, the band’s lead guitarist and album producer, brought in a list of twenty songs with all the lyrics, and that he and Arioli narrowed it down to the six that appear on the album; the six that fit the "vibe," the six that had a common theme, the ones that showed the humanism that Arioli and Officer embrace, is so evident in Miller's music.
Miller is a song writer that in the band's estimation has been overlooked. Miller has a quality that is not often emulated by today's singers. "They are not as willing to show the ‘cracks’ in their emotional veneer," quips Arioli. "They don't want to appear too ‘cracky.’"
"Besides having the six Roger Miller songs as a unifying factor," says Arioli, "part of the idea for this recording was to have a sound and an instrumentation particular to this project," which is encapsulated in Officer's tunes Night Flight and Leo's Blues. It's interesting to note here that when Officer first heard jazz guitar, he wanted to play it, but thought that it might be "difficult" to learn. He need not have worried. His playing is effortless and is the perfect compliment to Arioli's vocals.
It is this interplay between her voice and his playing that makes this recording stand out, they come across as two parts of the same sound, they speak in one voice, the effect is chilling, but not unexpected if you get the chance to talk to them. One is very energetic and I'll give you one guess which one that is. The other is quiet and introspective, ying & yang, night & day--equal yet separate, both immense talents.
Granted that "Learn to Smile Again" is more country than jazz, but there is a real swing era feel to the album that allows it to fit in either category easily. When you have finished listening to the album you have taken a walk through an entire relationship. By the Time I Get To Phoenix, the opening track written by Jimmy Webb, was one of the songs that had a very strong impact on Arioli and it is delivered in an acoustic setting that exposes the heart and soul of the song.
There is the customary list of people who in some way, whether directly or indirectly, contributed to its creation, friends, family, label people, the usual, but on this album, there is at least one that stands apart from the rest, Fred Astaire. Why Astaire? Well, it seems that the first time a young Arioli heard the song By Myself, it was the original 52-second version by Mr. Astaire, Fred would be proud. So here you have two very different people, each bringing their own unique vision to the music, each filling one part of the equation. And together, making it a whole and an extraordinary listening experience.