Modern Crooners: 7 Top Standards Singers of 2017

Last year, I put together a list of often-overlooked singers of American standards. It was such a joy to find new interpretations, and make a list. Below, are seven more that I am enjoying. They are in no particular order.

Click Here for last year’s list, which includes Zooey Deschanel, Caleb Collins, Madeline Peyroux, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Wade Tower, Aaron Minick, Holland Mariah Grossman, Landau Eugene Murphy, Matt Dusk and Marc Broussard. I reserve the right to do a second 2017 list, if I am so moved.

1. Frances Madden:

What’s not to love about Australian Frances Madden? Terribly attractive, cute, but not cutesy, and completely solid. The song “Such a Beautiful Thing” is the sort of song this world needs. What makes her stand out is that she writes her own songs, and also does standards, making her a deeply dimensional artist. Joyful. This world does not need more angst. It needs a few more like Frances channeling their talent.

2. Matt Forbes

This Canadian does all the typical Sinatra standards, but I found him most interesting in his version of Rod Stewart’s “Some Guys Have All the Luck.” Frankly, there is always a danger in doing things Sinatra did with any sort of cool swagger. You risk having a tribute band approach. This reverses things, as Stewart gained fame from doing standards, perhaps not realizing that his songs now are standards. I really love the way he does it straight, like he would have sung it on the Merv Griffin Show. On the verge of cheese but never all the way in. The bridge solo reminds me of a friendly TV sitcom sound, in a good way. This approach would not work with “Do You Think I’m Sexy.” Arrangement by the brilliant Callum Au is joyful.

3. Alex Platt & Dheepa Chari

This temporary duo of Los Angeles musician Platt and vocalist Dheepa Chari recorded this restrained version of Old Devil Moon, co-produced with Rob Kohler. Platt describes himself as a drummer, educator and producer. Chari is of Hindustani heritage, by way of Texas, Los Angeles and New York City. We like that she sees herself as straightforward. We need more of that sensible stuff in music. What it is. What it is.

4. Nina Repeta

North Carolina actress Nina Repeta, best known for Dawson’s Creek, is also a nifty song stylist. “Fly Me to the Moon” is almost always a good song, and doing it in a minimal way, in the hands of a vocalist who hits the notes, and every syllable, is satisfying. Michel Legrand’s “Watch What Happens” is also refreshing, and not academic.

5. Kristin Slipp and Dov Manski

Slipp has a unique voice that verges on being a bit too odd for standards, but hits notes you would not expect. Manski does a mean Wurlitzer. When not doing standards, Slipp is an indie songwriter. You could sit down for a very happy evening listening to those two, but always be a bit on edge, in a not too dangerous way. Kristin’s voice may not be for all, but it is completely relaxing.

6. Lisa Tuyula

German singer and artist Lisa Tuyula sings where spirituals and standards connect. Yet I just can’t figure out how well she captures “My Funny Valentine” in a very plain, but compelling way. Below, Tuyula with Christopher Reinhold on the piano in a Soundcloud sample.

7. Caesar

Caesar’s rendition of “The Very Thought of You” is lush sounding, and rich.  He does an “Autumn Leaves” in part Japanese and English. He grew up in Chicago, and has performed with many greats, often compared to Nat King Cole.

That’s it for now. If you know of others who should be on this list, please leave a comment below.

Williamsburg’s 150 Years of Fighting Off Fenced off Streets

Symbols are important: With the reopening of the Raleigh Tavern, Williamsburg founder Dr. Goodwin gave the key to the Raleigh Tavern to the people of Virginia, represented by my great -grandfather, Gov. Pollard

WILLIAMSBURG – Colonial Williamsburg is at it again with the notion that somehow it can cordon off a public street, charge admission, and make people pay for what belongs to the nation as a whole. This idea, which seems to pop up every two decades or so, comes even though Williamsburg, as its reason for being, is supposed to be an object lesson in freedom and the noblest aspirations of Americans.

The corollary example: What if a clique in Boston decided it was going to fence in Boston Common and hold regular re-enactments?

A bit of background. Williamsburg was, and is, an actual city, the colonial capital of Virginia, and birthplace of our country’s most notable founders. Over a six decade period from the roughly the 1930s to 1980s, Colonial Williamsburg purchased, restored and rebuilt much of the colonial fabric of the town. This built on decades of efforts by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities and others beginning in the late 19th century. These predecessors of CW purchased historic sites and buildings (Capitol, Powder Magazine) and laid the groundwork for The Restoration, or what others call CW.

Williamsburg opens up many of the houses and buildings and shops for tours and such, by ticket. However, the public streets have always been just that, public, with Williamsburg closing Duke of Gloucester Street merely to cars during my childhood. However, in recent years, Williamsburg has struggled, and has searched for revenue to keep the enterprise afloat as it created ever more elaborate re-enactments and costume dramas. Thus the idea of fencing off portions of Williamsburg, turning the city into a sort of Disneyland, is fully realized. This could make true Frank Lloyd Wright’s October 1938 criticism of the “shallowness” of Williamsburg, heard at that famous Phi Beta Kappa hall lecture.

Long History of Fences

My namesake great-grandfather, Virginia Gov. John Garland Pollard, was mayor of Williamsburg during the early days of the restoration. While he was professor at William & Mary, he conspired with the Rev. W.A.R. Goodwin to get John D. Rockefeller Jr. to come to Williamsburg to rebuild the Raleigh Tavern; his interest was Phi Beta Kappa, and teaching citizenship. He was also founder of the Marshall-Wythe School of Citizenship, which created what became the Marshall-Wythe School of Law.

While governor, he helped write the 1932 public policy book Modern Government in a Colonial City. The lead author was Luther Gulick, Director of the Institute of Public Administration at Columbia University. The book details the history of government in Williamsburg and brings that history from colonial establishment to the 1930s.

Gov. Pollard writes that in 1870, the state abandoned the idea of local government by closed corporation. The idea, he recounted, was that city officials needed to be elected, and not some sort of guild or private club. This legal structure allowed Williamsburg to elect 12 councilmen, four justices, one overseer of the poor and one street commissioner. However, the large elected body was apparently unworkable, and in 1884, Williamsburg became subject to the rules for towns of less than 5,000.

This new lineup was more useful, providing for a city corporation that would elect a mayor and six councilmen, none receiving a salary. Gov. Pollard, who was a notable Virginia Constitutional scholar and former Attorney General who yearly annotated the state code in his popular law book series Pollard’s Code, observed that a main reason for incorporating was to keep the streets open. He wrote:

“The ordinances passed were characteristic of small communities – bills to prevent peddling, to require gates to be hung so that they opened inward, to tax billiard parlors, to prevent persons fencing the streets, and a bill to keep Policeman X out of saloons, except in the discharge of his duties.”

When I read it, I almost fell out of my Paschall-era William and Mary windsor chair. You read it right; one of the first duties of the city was to prevent persons fencing off the streets.

There are so many arguments against this issue, that go beyond whether some people might be “for” the idea or “against” the idea. Such as:

  • The correct “colonial” interpretation (a CW mantra) of the street is that it is public. So to wall it off makes it most unlike the 1775 time period.
  • The street has been paid for many times by the public.
  • CW will become even more isolated, as everyday Virginians of all means, who are used to shopping and walking the street, stay away from the area.
  • Williamsburg itself will become more isolated and theatrical, rather than historic and  authentic. The key value to Millenials, a future audience, is authenticity.
  • Williamsburg is not Disney. It is an educational institution that owes its tax free status to its availability and service to the general public.
  • The people who would not pay for a visit to the historic area are precisely the people who need the historic area.
  • Alexandria, Charleston, Savannah and seem to do well with public streets.

Cities, particularly cities that carry the history of the nation, do not “belong” to private entities, no matter how much they make a mess about how great they are. Colonial Williamsburg was created so the everyday man could see what life in Colonial Virginia was like, and walk in the steps of patriots. In particular, it was designed so that the everyday person could visit the town and not pay to visit the restored buildings. The idea being that we all need to be informed by the architecture.

Through the years, CW officials have been careful about being too imperious in their approach to locals. In June of 1928, when the Rockefeller Fund gift was announced, the audience who might be concerned about this even included special meetings of the everyday citizens of Toano.

Genteel Civil Disobedience

I do wish Williamsburg native Margaret Lane Toth were still alive. As a child, and well into the 1980s, Aunt Margaret, as I called her, would drive her very large, powerful Buick Riviera down Duke of Gloucester street, whenever she pleased. She resented even the blocking of Duke of Gloucester street to traffic during the day. We thought it a hoot though, and always admired her gumption at doing this.

Her case was simple. This is my street too. There is a bit of injustice in this whole idea of fencing; she grew up at “Shady Lawn” on Waller Street, behind the Capitol, where her father Col. L.W. Lane, lived. CW records indicate that it was Col. Lane who apparently sold at least a piece of the Raleigh Tavern property to Colonial Williamsburg. Margaret Lane Toth, a fearless conservationist who lost her only son tragically in the U.S.S. Liberty attack, was not about to be told what to do on her childhood street.

The streets belong to the people of Virginia, and if CW is not up to the cause of keeping these buildings up, they need to reinvent, rent out some houses like England’s clever Landmark Trust, ratchet down the re-enactments or return the buildings to others. That CW cannot find its way is no excuse for a wrong to be committed.

Virginians graciously let The Restoration come in, and operate. They have done a great thing over the years. But they were to come and operate for the benefit of the people, not for the benefit of themselves. If somehow they have proven themselves incapable of it, perhaps they might turn over some of the operation to others, and leave the low-rent, plein air Hamilton show to others.