I’ve not always agreed with Janie Dee’s views on the theatre industry and what needs to be done to improve on the status quo, but there’s no doubting her sustained and stellar career to date. It was rather surprising, therefore, to discover Janie Dee at the BBC is her debut album – has she really not done one before?
There’s a living room ambience to this recording, which goes well with the sort of cabaret performances Dee has brought to various London venues in recent years. This is an eclectic mix, really, which demonstrates versatility more than anything else. Even the accents range from American Standard to Estuary English. Oh, and there’s a song in French, ‘Jardin D’Hiver’. Not being conversant in French, the only words I could deduce were “Fred Astaire”, but from the rhythm of the song, it felt like one of those ‘I wish’ songs.
What’s particularly great about this album for me is that listeners are not being given renditions of the usual musical theatre standards. Although Dee has done shows like Cabaret, Showboat, Carousel, The Sound of Music and at the time of writing is in a National Theatre production of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, songs from such musicals are set aside for another time.
The opening number, ‘Yes’, is relentlessly joyous and affirmative, with the odd line or two altered for a London audience. I was amused by “mink and marigold” replaced with “Kings Road, Chelsea” being “right outside”, and while New Yorkers are treated to “long white Cadillacs you can ride”, Londoners must make do with “big red buses”. At least it’s realistic, and relatable: I don’t think I’ve ever even been in a Cadillac.
The positive feel is continued in ‘One Note Samba’, made famous by Frank Sinatra in his 1971 album Sinatra & Company. But even when things aren’t going so well for whatever persona Dee adopts for a particular number, there’s still a knowing, proverbial wink. Take ‘There Goes The Ballgame’, in which, after a sad story, she simply sings, “Oh well, you can’t win them all”. In fact, there’s a story to be told in each song, which given how short some of the tunes are (one, ‘Can You Hear Me, God?’ is a mere 65 seconds long) is a remarkable achievement.
Dee hasn’t written her own songs for the album, so while it is technically an album of cover versions, it’s a unique recording. I had a good laugh at Alan Ayckbourn and Paul Todd’s ‘Copytype’, about a secretary who struggles with the demands of her role on account of her hunt-and-peck style of typing. I hadn’t heard the Spike Milligan tunes that follow immediately on, and it’s always good to be introduced to something novel.
I’m not very familiar with chart music, but even I’ve heard of Keane’s ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ (yes, the one from the 2013 John Lewis Christmas television advertisement) and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely’. These versions of such modern classics, as with all the songs, are presented in a stripped-down, acoustic, easy-listening format – the famed and the relatively unknown given a fresh and unique rendering. A studio recording of this nature isn’t quite going to capture the essence of a live cabaret performance. But this is, in the end, a delightful and exuberant album, and a welcome addition for those who appreciate good music, irrespective of style or format.
Review by Chris Omaweng
1. Yes (from ‘70 Girls 70’ – Kander & Ebb)
2. One Note Samba (Antonio Carlos Jobim & Newton Mendonça)
3. There Goes The Ballgame (from ‘And The World Goes ‘Round – Kander & Ebb)
4. One Of The Boys (from ‘Woman of the Year’ – Kander & Ebb)
5. Copytype (Alan Ayckbourn & Paul Todd)
6. Can You Hear Me, God? (Spike Milligan & Cathy Shostak)
7. Cigarette Scientist (Spike Milligan & Cathy Shostak)
8. Somewhere Only We Know (Keane)
9. Jardin D’Hiver (Benjamin Biolay & Keren Zeidel)
10. Isn’t She Lovely (Stevie Wonder)
11. Alfie (Burt Bacharach & Hal David)
12. Never Let Me Go (Raymond B. Evans & Jay Livingston)
13. Our Love Is Here To Stay (George & Ira Gershwin)
Launch Gig Booking Details:
Tickets to the album launch gigs and late-night cabarets on 2nd-4th October 2017 can be booked via the Live At Zédel website or by calling 020 7734 4888.
Tickets: £25 per performance (or £40 for both Album Launch and Off The Record shows on the same evening)
Crazy Coqs, Live at Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, London W1F 7ED http://www.auburnjam.co.uk/portfolio/janie-dee-at-the-bbc/