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The Graham Album Review #1836

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Andrea Superstein: What Goes On
by George Graham

(Cellar Live As broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/18/2015)

Since Norah Jones paved the way for a new generation of chanteuses, jazz and cabaret-influenced contemporary women vocalists, there has arisen what I suppose could be called a sub-genre, or at least an interesting little corner of the music scene with such vocalists going in a number of sometimes intriguing directions. They range from singer-songwriters with some jazz influence to those who specialize very distinctive covers of familiar songs, some going back to the Tin Pan Alley days. We have featured several of them in this series recently, including Lizz Wright, Halie Loren, the Hot Sardines’ vocalist Elizabeth Bougerol, Victoria Blythe and Jill Barber to name a few. This week we have another appealing chanteuse who is both a singer-songwriter and an artist who puts in distinctive and sometimes highly original interpretations of material ranging from Cole Porter to Radiohead. Her name is Andrea Superstein and her new CD, her second full-length, is called What Goes On.

Andrea Superstein is a native of Montreal, and is currently based in Vancouver, British Columbia, which has a strong jazz scene. Her musical training was as a jazz singer, a student of Sara Gazerak and Gretchen Parlatto. But she is also a fan of 1990s trip-hop music from the likes of Portishead, so elements of that come together on this new album. Her previous release called One Night was more jazz oriented, but for this record, she decided to work with producer Les Hooper who also worked with Jill Barber. It was a cross continental collaboration, with Ms. Superstein west at Vancouver and Hooper working out of Toronto. In her liner notes, she expressed trepidation about going into the studio and working out the music largely there, rather than being more methodically prepared. But the collaboration worked out and the result is quite engaging. It’s a lot of fun musically, in the way it romps around getting into styles running from the 1920s to dark ambient. The material also ranges widely, and the record is clever in the way it takes the existing songs and puts them into unexpected musical settings. There are three originals by Ms. Superstein and they are as eclectic.

She is joined by a group consisting of Robbie Grunwald on various keyboards, including accordion, Steve Zsirai on bass. Adam Warner on drums, and producer Les Hooper on guitars and variations including steel guitar and ukulele. Rosendo “Chendy” Leon is heard on percussion, with some additional backing vocalists.

Opening is a whimsical song that summarizes the mood of the album, I want to Be Evil, a song first recorded by Eartha Kitt in the 1950s. The arrangement is appropriate slinky for the lyrics. Ms. Superstein and band give it a great performance. <<>>

One of the more creative arrangements is of the old Tim Pan Alley song After You’ve Gone, which dates back to 1918 and was recorded by everyone from Bessie Smith and Big Crosby to Fiona Apple. Ms. Superstein and company give it a quirky twist somewhere between bluesy and theatrical. <<>>

The first of the originals by Ms. Superstein is Just One Time is given a more mainstream pop and soul sound. It’s a nice song lyrically, but compared to the rest of the album stylistically, it’s falls short in the originality department. <<>>

On the other hand one of the refreshingly clever tracks in Ms. Superstein’s version of the 1969 song Venus by the band The Shocking Blue, later recorded by Bananrama. This group makes it sound like something out of film noire. <<>>

Another of the original songs, the title track What Goes On, takes a very different direction from its predecessor. The piece is in the style of an old-fashioned Tim Pan Alley song, and it’s quite tastefully done. There’s added stylistic authenticity from the clarinet played by Drew Jurecka. <<>>

The kind of song that is the epitome of what a chanteuse would sing is Cole Porter’s I Love Paris. Ms. Superstein give it a dark, brooding, atmospheric quality and the result puts a different fascinating spin on the familiar standard. <<>>

The other Superstein original is My Baby Loves Me which is also done in the style of something from the 1930s. The song gives Ms. Superstein a chance to show her more traditional jazz vocal chops. <<>>

The CD ends with a cover of the Radiohead song The Karma Police, which is done in an odd mixture of alternative shoe-gaze rock moodiness and cabaret. The song is not that substantial to begin with, so the creative arrangement does not really lift it that much. <<>>

Canadian vocalist and songwriter Andrea Superstein’s new album What Goes On is another enjoyably entertaining and clever chanteuse-style recording that is centered on Ms. Superstein’s jazzy vocals but goes off in unexpected ways, with the combination of original songs that sound decades old, and old Tin Pan Alley songs being given a complete reinvention. For the most part, it works very well and the tastefulness of the musicianship and production and will keep the album appealing after the novelty of the arrangements wears off. Ms. Superstein’s original songs underscore the album’s depth.

Our grade for sound quality is a B-minus. While Ms. Superstein’s vocals are recorded rather well and not given excessive effects, the overall recording was badly over-compressed for this kind of music and does not have a very warm or appealing instrumental sound.

Andrea Superstein’s album was released on an independent mainstream jazz label, Cellar Live Records, based in Ms. Superstein’s hometown of Vancouver, but it’s hardly mainstream jazz. It is another worthy entry in the catalog of creative chanteuse recordings that have appeared in recent years. Her own website describes her as “quirky, indie, jazzy,” and that is a fair description for an artist who I hope will become better known south of the border in the USA.

(c) Copyright 2015 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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This page last updated November 22, 2015