Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Sundae + Mr. Goessl's When You're Smiling
In this day and age, I feel I have to be cautious when choosing adjectives to describe female singers. For instance, when I'm listening to Kate Voss, aka Sundae, sing these old originals from the first half of the 20th century, the first two words I think of are coquettish and kittenish. In their defense, those two words are old-fashioned in the right context and not at all dismissive since Sundae + Mr. Goessl are anything but from "this day and age." Voss and guitarist Jason Goessl are a "vintage duo," a seemingly new name for a very old sound. You've heard it before, probably in other recordings that have been pigeonholed into the genre known as hot Parisian jazz. I've been hearing a lot of these recordings lately; it's a thing, and I'm happy about it.
I do have a word, I think, and it's adorable. Sundae's voice is equal parts Billie Holiday and Teresa Brewer, light and silly when it needs to be and tinged with an old soul's wry wit that pulls these vintage themes away from forced innocence into something more pure and knowing. She's a charmer. She casts an undeniable spell on you and she does it by staying honest and doing things that have been done before, just not for a long time. Once you hear her simple and loving takes on old songs like "Stardust," "Embraceable You," "The Best Is Yet to Come" and the title track, you might forget about everyone else's versions, at least for a while.
Ah, but Sundae is not singing acapella. None of this would work as well without Mr. Goessl's hot Parisian acoustic guitar, played with deft uke strums from the Django Reinhardt School of Casual Virtuosity. Just when you think you have a handle on his style and his instrument, he switches it up with a classic electric jazz guitar ("Caravan") or he turns up the reverb ("Bang Bang") or he throws in a little country twang (Patsy Cline's "Any Time"). Sundae often provides an amusing counterpoint with her little melodica, reinforcing the whole Parisian aspect, and both add a smattering of bells and chimes whenever punctuation is required. Percussionists Adrian Van Batenburg and Sam Esecson provide the beats and subtle rhythms when needed.
Most of the time, Sundae and Mr. Goessl give everything that's required in a pared down, almost pristine manner. It's a beautiful recording, enhanced by the compact simplicity of the accompaniment. You won't be digging through layers of texture and meaning here--this is a concise idea that's composed of a lovely voice and an exquisite guitar delivering familiar classics in a way you haven't heard in a very long time. Don't be surprised if the younger generations immediately pick up on When You're Smiling and turn it into a thing. Remember how everyone jumped onto the martini wagon twenty years ago and started listening to Sinatra and Tony Bennett? This album has that same combination of hipness and historical flair. Or, as one of these classic tunes declare, "S'wonderful."