Maxine Linehan: Beautiful Songs

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Maxine Linehan

Beautiful Songs

August 18, 2015

(Honeybun Records)

Reviewed by Victoria Ordin for Cabaret Scenes

Maxine-Linehan-Beautiful-Songs-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Beautiful Songs is a rich collection of familiar songs with deeply personal and, at times, unusual meaning for Irish singer Maxine Linehan. Her statement on the album jacket that a song’s beauty lies either in the lyrics, the melody, or some “ineffable, magical combination” of the two, is hardly original. But the role she assigns, somewhat abstractly, to the “listener[s]” and “what [they] bring to the song from [their] memories [and their] aesthetics,” coupled with her brief explanations of what makes each beautiful to her, drives home the beauty of numbers that might not make her listeners’ “top 12” list of beautiful songs.

“Walk Through the World” (Bricusse), with its ethereal flute nicely paired with the strings and clarinet, has an orchestral feel, almost like an overture. After a doleful rendering of “Love Can’t Happen” (Yeston), a quite dispiriting song about love overcoming unpromising odds (odds I wouldn’t take to the track), comes a dazzling version of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” (Kern/Harbach).

Linehan infuses well-known material by Sondheim, Berlin, Piaf, and Styne /Comden & Green with comparable subtlety and power. Having just seen the astonishingly talented Hershey Felder in a return engagement of Irving Berlin at the Geffen Playhouse, I could not help but think of the parallel between Berlin, a Russian immigrant, and Linehan, an Irish immigrant: both grew up in homes where music mattered. Her father listened to everything from Berlin to The Beach Boys. Berlin’s father believed that whatever tragedy life might present (including a pogrom that destroyed the family’s town), you could survive anything as long as you kept singing.

Linehan, as she puts it, “an Irish girl singing a Mexican song,” is as at home with “Sway” (Demetrio/Beltram/Ruiz) as with “Danny Boy” (Weatherly), a ballad associated with her heritage which she never wanted to sing until she undertook a deeper study of the lyric.

But the track I can’t stop listening to as I sit in L.A. traffic dreaming of New York is “I Think of You,” a riotously funny piece whose graceful melody (and lyrics) are by Linehan’s husband, Andrew Koss. It deserves to take its place in the pantheon of Sondheim’s crotchety, loving odes to New York, like “Another Hundred People” and “What More Do I Need?.” By the sound of it, the answer is nothing at all.