Nothing takes the sting out of doing taxes like listening to good music while preparing them.
And it doesn’t get much better than composer Jerome Kern. PS Classics makes that abundantly clear on two new titles, “I Got Love” (a collection from Rebecca Luker) and “The Land Where the Good Songs Go” (a revue using a couple dozen songs and featuring a great little cast).
Both are a wonderful trip down musical memory lane, and “Land’s” liner notes by Stephen Sondheim told me a lot I didn’t know, like he worked with more than 60 collaborators over his career.
But let’s start with Luker’s solo disc. I’ve been a fan since hearing the “Secret Garden” cast recording in the early ’90s. She always had a lovely soprano, and this set showcases it in a new way. There’s a bit of maturity to it that digs deep into the songs and makes you feel like you’re at a club in the ’30s. A couple songs even sounded reminiscent of Barbara Cook in her prime, especially “And I Am All Alone.” So that’s a good thing.
Highlights include a great mash-up of “Bill” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” and the title song.
Luker appears again on “Land,” where she’s half of one of three couples. She gets two of the most fun songs on the two-disc set: “Ain’t It Funny What a Difference Just a Few Drinks Make?” and “We’re Crooks/Our Little Nest.” They’re a riot: in the first as she and Graham Rowat get more and more inebriated and in the latter with satirical lyrics about politicians and Wall Street that still ring true though written almost 100 years ago.
It’s just one delightful song after another until the end, when things slow down a bit and you get Kate Baldwin on “Bill” (one of just two songs that overlap), then Luker and Heidi Blickenstaff on “Bill’s a Liar” (not a sequel, but it could be), then Matthew Scott on “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” probably my favorite on the set (and in Kern’s catalog).
Lyricists on the two sets include Ira Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein II, P.G. Wodehouse, Otto Harbach and Dorothy Fields, to name a few, a real who’s who of Broadway, Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley. And while I knew some of the bigger name classics, the nice thing about these collections is the depth they achieve. I’ve probably never heard half of the songs on them, and even “Land” music director/arranger David Loud found songs he’d never heard while digging through Kern’s career. And Loud must get a lot of credit for making “Land” such a delight with his wonderful arrangements.
I’m not going to get much richer with my tax refunds, but I do feel enriched after listening to these two new releases.