CD review by Rob Lester at Talkin’ Broadway

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DANE VANNATTER
GIVE ME SOMETHING REAL

After an impressive trio of solo albums, with the exception of some guest tracks on songwriters’ albums, golden-voiced Dane Vannatter has not released a CD since 2001. He’s continued to perform live (recently with regular gigs in the Pittsburgh area, with a rare Manhattan appearance at the Metropolitan Room on April 3). What a pleasure to have this voice-of-cream crooner back at last for a solo disc, even if I’m a bit grumpy feeling cheated that it only has ten tracks. But they’re all fine—and varied.

Recorded in a town in Massachusetts and in Pittsburgh, with tasteful backings in small-group settings, the results are satisfying and find the singer in superbly supple voice. With judiciously employed vibrato, his sound can be ethereal, with high and buttery notes a trademark specialty, extending to a drop-dead beautiful falsetto. But he can also sound gutsy and even cocky, but pure beauty in vocals is his long suit. If he drifted off or lost focus, he could probably become just a super-pretty sound floating through the air or poured like so much divinely rich honey. But he sounds involved, with a point of view, to anchor his renditions in a decided attitude and stance.

A mischievous kind of sexy playfulness dominates the first two selections. The opener is “Lover, Come Back to Me,” the antique by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II that was written for an operetta and proclaimed in formal and starched style, but was long ago repurposed as a swinger by everyone from Sinatra to Streisand. Dane’s reading recalls the latter’s winking glee (from her earliest days) in its phrasing and emphasized words, though less wild and not as wildly unrestrained, but still a romp. It’s followed by another indulgence in seduction, “Just Squeeze Me,” again playing the cute and coy card without much at stake, perhaps eyebrow-raising in its day decades ago before lyrics were blatantly sexual and a Duke Ellington melody could compensation with the insouciance and spice. If I didn’t know Vannatter’s track record, these two opening tracks wouldn’t lead me to think he had a lot more to his arsenal than lightly charming fun stuff. Happily, there is more and it’s far more interesting and satisfying.

Although Dane has not discarded his cabaret/Great American Songbook loyalties, the title number of Give Me Something Real is one example of his expanding the horizons. It’s a roaring tiger of a pop song by Clark Anderson and Mervyn Warren (the Renaissance man and founding member of Take 6, whose first name is unfortunately spelled wrong on the back cover). To his credit, the singer sounds just as comfortable in this setting and with Al Green’s wailing R&B hit “Let’s Stay Together” as he does on cabaret classics “Blame It on My Youth” and “But Beautiful,” both bittersweet and imbued with 20/20 hindsight, or the novelty number “I Love My Bed” where he seems oh-so-cozy literally and in the genre.

But it is with a stunning medley of two pieces that he sounds most involved and is the most riveting. It’s Coldplay’s “Fix You” blended with Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Without the sheen of classic American ballads to lean on or the flirt persona to fall back on, Dane is spare and magnetic and the lyrics to both seem like heartbeat-true confessionals and declamations. While some drawn-out and drone-like renderings of Cohen’s haunting and naked piece can have diminishing returns when going on at snail-pace length, the shorter time sandwiched between the two parts of “Fix You” easily fixes that and it’s all truly arresting throughout the track.

This CD just arrived this week and quickly became a favorite to spin again and again. Moody enhancements of flute and guitar up the ante of emotion. As the plaintive Billy Strayhorn music and lyric of “Something to Live for” waft through the air, the truths of loneliness and ache mixed with faint hope, I feel firmly convinced that this cry of pain is an open wound, slow to heal. But then the next selection, the old ditty about a heavenly nest of homey happiness “East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)” makes me thing that happy endings can be just around the corner. And I hope another platter from the much-missed Vannatter will be around the corner again soon. I am not willing to wait another decade and a half. And it would be a crime if he did.

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