CD Review: “Kim David Smith — Live at Joe’s Pub”

August 16, 2020 | By | Add a Comment
Kim David Smith 8.17.20

Kim David Smith at the 2019 Sydney Cabaret Festival. (Photo: John McRae)

Kim David Smith’s first live CD, Live At Joe’s Pub, contains a memorably entertaining overview of a lot of material that he has been presenting at various hip downtown clubs and cabarets over the last few years, including some songs from his memorable tributes to Marlene Dietrich, Kylie Minogue, and The Weimar Republic. 

The recording opens with a rogue’s gallery of Weimar villains and heroes and survivors, spanning genre, gender and time period.  The story of Pirate Jenny (Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht, Marc Blitzstein) unfolds with an immediacy and drama that is thrilling.  Weill, Brecht, and Blitzstein’s Barbara Song pairs beautifully with I Don’t Know Who I Belong To (Frederick Hollaender, Jeremy Lawrence) in tribute to both Marlene Dietrich and Hollaender, whose songs are a highlight of the recording and a constant source of delight.  William Bolcom, along with Arnold Weinstein, contributed much to a modern day appreciation of Berlin’s cabaret history and music;  it is a sign of Smith’s passion, intelligence and commitment to the historical context of his choices that he includes a riveting version of Bolcom and Weinstein’s Song of Black Max.

Motown falls surprisingly easily under the Weimar spell with the inclusion of You Keep Me Hangin’ On, in which he places the story of the Edward Holland/Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier classic smack dab in the middle of a Brechtian landscape as its melody takes on the percussive, jagged musical setting of Kurt Weill.  The classic (and often overdone) Nature Boy (Eden Ahbez) breathes with new life in a bracing arrangement given more spice than I have heard before.

In tribute to his “spirit animal,” Kylie, Smith features All The Lovers (James Eliot, Jemima Stillwell) which is the most infectious bit of pop on the disc,  and a terrific I Should Be So Lucky (Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, Pete Waterman). There’s a lovely moment when that song morphs into two Hollaender numbers—Illusions  and A Little Yearning (with Lawrence), the latter almost painfully touching. 

There is nothing heavy-handed or pretentious in the least in the show (and on the disc) and, in fact, in both patter and in lyric delivery he can be quite funny when it is called for.  I was especially pleased by Ich bin ein Vamp! (Mischa Spoliansky, Marcellus Schiffer) followed by (what else?) Dracula’s Tango (Barry Ian Blue, Paul Greedus)Smith chooses to close the evening, and the CD, with Walter Marks’s The Singer, rescued from the expected schmaltz of Liza Minnelli’s version by his smart, sophisticated, and subtle interpretation.

Kim David Smith CD Live at Joe's pub

Kim David Smith –Live at Joe’s Pub (Illustration by Clifford Faust)

With this CD packaging, artist Clifford Faust might be singlehandedly crushing the old bugaboo about don’t judge a book (or CD) by its cover.  His graphics for this recording are stunning.  There is such a sense of joy, release, movement, history and style in the illustrations that the package seems like it could quite literally jump out of your hand.  Tracy Stark serves as music director and back-up vocalist and delivers some of the best work I have ever heard her contribute.  Skip Ward provides remarkable support on bass as well.  With these three consummate performers, not another thing is needed to make this album a rousing success.  Given the choice and breadth and depth of the material my last comment might seem a bit of a surprise but let me declare that Kim David Smith Live At Joe’s Pub is easily one of the feel good releases of the year and is an utter joy.

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Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit" – Words & Music by Jimmy Webb—and directed many cabaret artists, among them André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directed "The David Drumgold Variety Show" monthly at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He's taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London's Goldsmith's College, and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York's performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by cabaret and recording artists. Up until the pandemic, Gerry was an artist in residence at Pangea, presenting a monthly variety show called "Fabulous First Fridays."

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