CD REVIEW: Kenny Rankin Plays the Beatles and More - The Bottom Line Archive
By Dan Cohen - 07/21/2015 - 10:53 PM EDT
Artist: Kenny Rankin
Album: The Bottom Line Archive
Genre: Acoustic folk/pop
Sounds Like: James Taylor meets Ella Fitzgerald?
Production/Musicianship Grade: 10/10
Overall Talent Level: 10/10
Songwriting Skills: 9/10
Performance Skill: 10/10
Best Songs: Always, Peaceful, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, In the Name of Love
How to describe Kenny Rankin? On the one hand, itís pretty simple. Heís a singer-songwriter. He plays guitar and sings. A little piano, too. But he packs jazz, blues, brazilian, pop, and nearly classical melismatic singing into his work, often in the course of one song. He folds genres into genres and spans, in one set, a musical universe that others barely touch in the course of a career. The Bottom Line show recorded on this album is apparently the only ďofficialĒ live recording of this extraordinary artist. Moreís the pity, as he seems to be a live performing animal, who lives to take a journey with and for and through an audience. I grew up in and around New York in the seventies, a time of extraordinary musical ferment. Kenny Rankin stands alone, his extraordinary musical gifts coupled with his wonderful audience rapport, the generosity and genius that shines through his interpretations of the classics, as well as his own tunes. Kenny truly broke the mold.
He begins with an almost throwaway Ďversioní of A Little Help From My Friends, which morphs quickly into Havenít We Met?, a jazzy curio that begins to show off Rankinís gift for scatting and improv. Inside and Peaceful are two originals highlighting his introspective and lyrical qualities. In Peaceful, in particular, his signature warm, caressing vocal sound takes you on a journey. Itís a simple ballad, but itís as if Rankin canít help himself and must take off. In other hands it might sound cloying or overwrought, but I was enchanted by the purity of Rankinís sound and the immediacy of his emotion.
He has two interpretations of classic jazz standards, Irving Berlinís Always and Hammersteinís Because Of You. Both of these he does entirely a capella, with very little adornment. Itís as if heís saying This is my classical music. I can do it straight, see? And he kills it. Just kills it. He tells a funny, self-deprecating story about performing at a party for Berlinís 90-something birthday, and then unleashes this simple, perfectly wrought gem of a version of Always. Magic.
Heís known as a Beatles interpreter, and his interpretation of While My Guitar Gently Weeps is amazing, complete with a revelatory My Funny Valentine reference that he seems to toss off spontaneously. His Iíve Just Seen a Face is less successful, to my mind, but again, beautifully sung and played. The brazilian interludes of Birembau and Doralice show off a great rhythmic feel and again, his humor. He apologizes for not knowing the lyrics to Doralice before launching into the song, scatting the lovely melody before morphing the song into a unique take on You Are the Sunshine of My Life.
That was Kenny, it seems. The consummate mad musical genius. Always searching, always exploring, making worlds collide, making connections, and, most of all, making music. Get this album to hear a true original at work. And play.
It should be noted, too, that this is the first of a series of releases by the Bottom Line Archive, giving a musical glimpse into that wonderful old club that featured virtually every artist of note to travel through New York, a fixture on E. 4th Street for thirty years. Kudos to Allan Pepper and Stanley Snadowski for producing this series, and to Gregg Bendian for not only his great production work, keeping a real, live feeling to the proceedings, but for his extensive liner notes as well. They're unabashedly enthusiastic, even 'fanboy'-ish, but also give a real feel for the era and often include interviews or comments by the artists themselves. Stay tuned for live sets from the Brecker Brothers, Wille Nile, and others. A great idea executed greatly. I miss The Bottom Line!
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