Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Mister Rogers Swings!
That’s the name of a CD by Holly Yarbrough, and it’s also the truth. Yarbrough has taken sixteen songs from the Fred Rogers songbook and done them proud. And they all swing.
Now, "swing" is a term that needs definition in this case, since the word sometimes carries a connotation of up-tempo rhythms and blaring horn charts. You won’t find much of that here. But, swing it does. It’s a very gentle sort of swing, and, like Fred Rogers himself, non-threatening and full of love. This CD won’t make you hop off the couch and start jitterbugging, but it will definitely make you want to hug someone special to you. That can be fun, too.
The session opens, as seems obligatory in any reading of Rogers’ work, with a version of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? In a similar nod to conformity, it closes with It’s Such A Good Feeling. I don't really have a problem with that. It's comfortable, and they’re both swell tunes wherever they might have shown up. In between, we get material that will be familiar to long-time viewers of Fred’s show, many done up in a cool lounge vibe. Over top of the solidly mellow bass and drums, there are healthy doses of bright and to-the-point jazz guitar soloing, extremely tasty piano work, occasional loosening of the horn section’s leash (to especially good effect on You’ve Got To Do It, which features Roy Agee, George Tidwell, and the late Boots Randolph, trading short solos on trombone, trumpet, and saxophone, respectively), a few country-tinged pieces dominated by cello and fiddle, and - most inviting - Yarbrough’s wonderful vocals.
Yarbrough has a truly great set of pipes, and she uses them well. Her singing is smooth and melodic throughout. She sometimes doesn’t take a chance I would have preferred – there was one spot in Many Ways To Say I Love You where I thought for sure she’d go for the higher note, instead settling for the mid-range – but it's a matter of my taste, not her ability, and there’s really very little to quibble about in her choices. Throughout the CD, you ride along on the light golden honey of her singing, nary a bump in the road anywhere, and it’s an enjoyable journey.
One of my all-time favorite Fred Rogers compositions is the love song, When The Day Turns Into Night, and I’m happy to report it’s included here and done exceedingly well. The lyric is simple, yet as achingly beautiful as anything written by more-well-known purveyors of melancholy than Rogers – if the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Fred is puppets, this one may surprise you – and Yarbrough invests the words with just the right amount of tension, neither going over the top or leaving them bereft of the necessary emotion.
My favorite cut is probably Everybody’s Fancy, which opens with a bit of light scatting before the main lyric (I would assume the least favorite of Fred’s writings among some of those in the GLBT community, since Fred asserts that "boys are boys from the beginning, girls are girls right from the start", although the overall message about everybody’s body being just swell certainly must resonate.) The mid section features a very direct Lori Mechem piano solo.
And then, there's I Like To Be Told. Originally written to address the insecurity felt by children when parents go off on a trip or otherwise leave them temporarily alone, it is here delivered as a bluesy torch song, and one can't help hearing a subtle S&M component. It works.
I could continue with a detailed description of every selection, but I think I’d be doing you a disservice if I did so. You’ll be more delighted if you buy the CD (or download the songs) and discover the good bits for yourself. This is a collection of Fred Rogers’ songs that will, if you listen to it in the company of a significant other, likely make your evening all warm and tingly.
Mister Rogers Swings, indeed. Who knew?
Hear some samples at Holly Yarbrough's My Space page.
Buy it at Amazon.
Soon, with more better stuff.