CD REVIEW: David Anthony Zee - After Time
By Dan Cohen - 11/29/2010 - 02:59 PM EST
Artist: Band: David Anthony Zee
Album: After Time
Genre: Acoustic folk/blues/jazz
Sounds Like: Harry Connick, Diane Schuur, Diana Krall
Technical Grade: 10/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 10/10
Commercial Value: 10/10
Performance Skill: 9/10
Best Songs: It Had to be You, What'll I Do, Everybody Loves My Baby, Undecided
On the cover of After Time, the stellar new album by David Anthony Zee, is a picture of Mr. Zee with a big grin on his face being accosted by a sweetly expectant dog (presumably his). Let's go for a walk! Can we? Can we? Huh?!!! That's kind of like this album: a big wet musical dog kiss. A valentine to Tin Pan Alley that finds freshness in the familiar and unexpected depth in pop sentiment. Songs may be from way back then, but my advice is: buy it now! Just in time for Christmas. It'll sound great at any party.
Album was recorded in Maine, but it has a distinctly cosmopolitan, New York edge, with the band pictured on the back all swinging like crazy in untucked tuxedos. The untucked tuxedo could be another metaphor for this album. Many artists issue albums with versions of classic tunes they try to make 'their own' but end up being ownerless, carbon copies, faint echoes of earlier and better versions. This album avoids that tender trap. First of all, there's the song choices-- a nice mix of the familiar and the not so much. But also, the playing and arrangements all have a looseness and space and fun to them, while at the same time honoring their origins. A perfect mix of formality and ease, the tuxedo and the shirt tail. It's not an easy trick to pull off with such apparent ease. Believe me, I've reviewed many of them!
It Had To Be You, the old Gus Kahn chestnut, starts us off with an odd, uptempo, Mersey Beat-meets-New Orleans(?) treatment that suits it well. Mr. Zee's voice, warm and graceful, plays with and curls around the melody with understated ease. There's a playful version of 'Baby Face', plus a nice rendering of a tune I'd never heard before, Whatsername, that manages to be both comic and poignant by turns, not easy to do in a ballad. What'll I Do, from the pen of the infallible Irving Berlin, is masterfully done, with a lovely vocal and great, simple, uncluttered playing throughout. Mr. Zee is not a flashy pianist, but has a great melodic sense, and he's backed wonderfully by bassist Mike Burd and Josh Fournier on drums. Fournier steps out in Everybody Loves My Baby, a funky gloss on this timeless classic. Produced with clean, spare, deep sound by Noel Paul Stookey (of Peter Paul and Mary fame), the album sounds great. I don't know when I've heard a better recorded acoustic piano. I could have used a bit more backing vocals on some tracks (there are none), but this is a minor quibble.
As long as we're quibbling, I wanted a bit more humor in the vocal on We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye, which seems ripe for Mr. Zee's urbane delivery. But the arrangement is fab, the drums & bass coming in with a nice reggae beat accented on the offbeats by odd cymbals, rimshots, woodblocks, duck calls, garbage can lids(?), etc. Call it circus reggae. It gives the tune a unique signature. After a nice, latin-tinged take on Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne's Time After Time, the album ends with a bang, quite literally, on Undecided. They run through the uptempo tune like pros, then offer an 'out' interpretation involving a lot of noise and random laughter. Just a bunch of cats having a great time. And one very happy dog.
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