CD Review: Kirsten Gustafson’s “Wait Until Dark”

August 24, 2020 | By | Add a Comment

Singer Kirsten Gustafson’s bluesy, dark, pop stylings are on attractive display on her new CD, ​Wait Until Dark. ​It seems that in an effort to feature the widest variety of material and styles, she and her team left behind any chance of concept or connection between the songs. On a CD, this is not always a problem but what works here works so well, could only have benefited from the addition of a bit more thought about cohesion.

Wait Until Dark cover photo: Rick Aguilar

The album opens with an a cappella excerpt from Leon Russell’s “​A Song For You” that is so good that I wanted to hear the complete song. It leads into Led Zeppelin’s ​”The Rain Song” ​(Jimmy Page, Robert Plant) which is a choice as exciting as it is unusual. It is also the first of four terrific appearances by guitar wizard Fareed Haque whose accomplished, versatile playing raises each of the tunes on which he plays to another level and raises Gustafson’s fine vocals along with it. “​For One Alone,” w​ritten by the CD’s producer, Richard Knight Jr., has the air of a classic jazz standard from the Great American Songbook and Gustafson matches its classic sound. Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “​From The Beginning” (​Greg Lake) is another unusual choice and one that succeeds far beyond expectation. The singer brings her storytelling skills to the most unexpected rock choices and we marvel at her reinvention of well-known songs from other genres.

James Taylor’s ​”Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” Dewey Bunnell’s ​”A Horse With No Name,” and Eugene McDaniel’s ​”Compared to What” a​re also transformed into moments of riveting narrative. Perhaps the rarest of Henry Mancini movie themes, the title song ​”Wait Until Dark” ​(with lyrics by Jay Livingston), becomes in Gustafson’s capable hands as haunting as the best of the composer’s works.

The one misstep is a high-speed attack on ​”The Look of Love” (​ Burt Bacharach, Hal David). The song choice itself comes off as terribly clichéd against the other repertoire on the disc but even if it were not, her phrasing is undone by the high tempo, and her delivery borders far too often on yodeling rather than vocalise or scat.

But one mistake among such riches is easily forgiven.  Scott Anderson on guitar, Karl Montzka on keyboards, and both Steve Hashimoto and Matt Thompson on bass, plus a few truly delightful solos by Carrie Biolo on vibes, contribute to the overall excellence of the project. The orchestral songs are inventively arranged as well. Kirsten Gustafson is a terrific singer and my suggestion for the CD is to program out ​”The Look of Love” a​nd let the rest of the album delight and entertain you.

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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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