Patti LuPone's album, The Lady with a Torch, provides a simmering walk down memory lane of classic American songs, some firmly entrenched in the “torch” category, others retrofitted to accommodate the theme.
American Songbook aficionados will surely approve of LuPone's songlist:
- “The Man I Love” (G. Gershwin/ I. Gershwin)
- “Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry” (J. Styne/ S. Cahn)
- “Something Cool” (B. Barnes)
- “A Cottage for Sale” (W. Robinson/L. Conley)
- “Ill Wind” (H. Arlen/T. Koehler)
- “I Wanna Be Around” (J. Mercer/S. Zimmerstedt)
- “The Other Woman” (J. Robinson)
- “Do It Again” (G. Gershwin/B.G. DeSylva)
- “Early Autumn” (R. Burns/W. Herman/J. Mercer)
- “I'm Through with Love” (G. Kahn/M. Malneck/T. Adair)
- “So In Love” (C. Porter)
- “My Buddy” (W. Donaldson/G. Kahn)
- “Body and Soul” (J. W. Green/E. Heyman/R. Sour/F. Eyton)
- “Don't Like Goodbyes” (H. Arlen/T. Capote)
The songlist is truly incredible, spanning the gamut of early 20th century composers and song styles. Torch standards such as “The Man I Love” and “I Wanna Be Around” do not disappoint those wanting the big, belty showtune-esque torch song. The true finds are songs most listeners will have forgotten or never heard before. LuPone sings the solemn “Cottage for Sale” with aching simplicity while she approaches the ultimate revenge song, “I Wanna Be Around,” with all the lusty relish of Sweeney's “Mrs. Lovelace.”
If complaints are to be found, it is in the brief selections that no longer suit modern tastes. Back when it was written, “Do It Again” was a snappy, tongue-in-cheek dance number. With lyrics such as, “I may say, 'No, no, no,' but do it again,” some older songs grate against the 21st century feminist nerve that still works to maintain the mantra that “No means No”.
Listeners more accustomed to LuPone's famously loud belt will be pleasantly surprised by her ability to finesse a well-crafted lyric into an effective melody of melancholy worthy of the “torch” branding. LuPone's clearly impressive vocal range exhibits a growing richness in her maturing lower register and masterful control of dynamics both in volume as well as expression using straight tone and vibrato – all without losing her famous belt for the money notes.
Her vocals are occasionally nasal, but not to a distracting degree – it is Patti LuPone after all. If young singers would unplug the various incarnations of “Defying Gravity” from their iThingies and plug in Patti, they might learn something of the craft of vocal storytelling. But if the Broadway gigs dry up, LuPone could easily rule the Cabaret circuit.
Discard your preconceptions of what torch songs should sound like. The expectation is that every song will be a driven dirge with a diva pounding out the beats on the back-end of a piano. Not here. Tempi vary from slow and thoughtful to tango, to all-out finger-snapping, toe-tapping standards. Varying the approach of the often contrived torch song delivery makes the slinky, hip-kicking, trumpet-wailing approach of the bigger songs that much more enjoyable.
With arrangements by Jonathan Tunick and Dick Gallagher and musical direction by Chris Fenwick, the music accompaniment spans the spectrum from a pared down combo to full-out, lush arrangements that whisk you away and carry you down the river to Torch Land. The musical arrangements of The Lady with a Torch perfectly support each song individually to create LuPone's overall desired mood of torch anguish sans "lounge lizard" dramatics.
Liner NotesLuPone's cheeky sense of humor shines through even in her notes for the insert. Rather than bore readers with a music history lesson, she offers her own tidbits behind the songs she sings. For the song “I'm Through with Love,” she writes, “This one's a 3 hanky.” The song “Early Autumn” receives this endorsement: “Thanksgiving is on the way. Then Christmas, then the New Year. It's that lovely time of year I like to call suicide season.”
With a solid production team supporting her, Patti LuPone has created an evocative cabaret/nightclub setting with the songs and arrangements on The Lady with a Torch. The album artfully combines standards with lesser known songs worth pining for in true torch style. And though some songs are antiquated for the modern woman, they remain important in the canon of early 20th century American songs (and serve as a reminder of how far women have come in society).
Definitely buy this album, if not for the heartfelt delivery by LuPone, then for the carefully chosen mix of American songbook classics and long forgotten gems of yesteryear.