Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
American Songbook at NJPAC: Maureen McGovern
McGovern was the Celine Dion of the early 1970s. She recorded the definitive version
of the Academy Award winning song from The
Poseidon Adventure, “The Morning After,” and performed the Oscar winning “We
May Never Love Like this Again” on-camera in Irwin Allen’s The Towering Inferno. Mercifully, she spares us an interpretation
of Titanic’s “My Heart Will Go On.”
Instead, McGovern stretches the definition of American Songbook standard with a
set of tunes penned by the singer-songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s.
Fortunately, it mostly works throughout her very cabaret-ish set (based on her autobiographical
stage show) for this week’s installment of American Songbook at NJPAC, premiering this Wednesday on NJTV.
opens with Paul Simon’s S&G hit “America,” but her treatment is a bit more
up-tempo, as befitting its lead-off spot. It is rather nice, but her later rendition
of “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” is even better. That tune
really is a standard. If you doubt it, check out Paul Desmond’s lovely
Harris, her musical director-accompanist, arranges many of the tunes in
interesting ways, while playing to McGovern’s strengths. Dylan’s “The Times
They are A-Changing” is a prime example, nearly giving it the vibe of a
military anthem. McGovern adds a vaguely Celtic flavor that mixes terrifically
with his insistent piano. Unfortunately, everyone was evidently too intimidated
to try to punch up the dreary melody of “We Shall Overcome” leading off a Pete
Seeger melody. At least they return to “Times A-Changing” bag for the rousing “If
I Had a Hammer.”
McGovern’s most personal performance of the night is her take on Joni Mitchell’s
“The Circle Game.” It is a sensitive interpretation that should make listeners
appreciate the poetry of the tune’s lyrics and the delicacy of its
construction, even if they are not great fans of Mitchell (whose music McGovern
credited with helping her through her divorce). (For a good jazz cover of a
Mitchell tune, check out Dizzy Gillespie’s tight, stratospheric recording of “Both
also performs a Jimmy Webb medley, including “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,”
which had no connection to Robert Heinlein, beyond the Grandmaster giving his
okay for the songwriter to use his Hugo winning title. It is pleasant grouping,
but it might have benefited from more contrast between the individual songs.
Even though it is not exactly a
singer-songwriter composition, McGovern concludes the evening with Al Kasha
& Joel Hirschhorn’s “The Morning After,” as she probably did at every other
concert since May 1973. It is a solid pop song that sounds better with the more
intimate accompaniment. It maybe isn’t quite a standard, but it certainly was a
hit. Clearly, it was a fitting closer to a set that nicely broadens the focus
of the American Songbook at NJPAC series.
Recommended for singer-songwriter fans, McGovern’s NJPAC concert premieres this
Wednesday (2/18) on NJTV, with a later airdate scheduled for April 11th
on WNET 13.
Labels: American Songbook at NJPAC, Maureen McGovern