Rebecca Spencer: Still, Still, Still

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Rebecca Spencer

Still, Still, Still

(LML Music)

October 6, 2017

Reviewed by John Hoglund for Cabaret Scenes

Rebecca Spencer has always been a storyteller in a league with the likes of Christine Andreas and Barbara Cook. Here, she shines a light on intelligent, worthy holiday-themed songs that otherwise might have been overlooked. Along with collaborator Philip Fortenberry, she fuses them medley-style with traditional and classic gems. She also ventures into some obscure territory that many other singers wouldn’t chance. Her well-chosen offerings are pluperfect, starting with the impeccable production value of the recording itself, which is obvious from the first chord.

Not every singer gets to record using the same soundboard created for Michael Jackson on his Thriller album. Spencer did and, under the brilliant guidance of gifted arranger-pianist Fortenberry and her intelligent musicians, the results are exceptional on Still, Still, Still, a pristine collection of holiday songs that sound like classics from another era.

Mixing 25 traditional and contemporary hymns, classics, and originals in the lineup, it all celebrates the holiday spirit in the best way—at a time when it is needed most.

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After what has obviously been a loving process, Spencer and her team came up with an imaginative narrative and sound that echoes a cathedral with tone poems on winter themes.

Opening with Fortenberry’s majestic chords heralding “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” it’s obvious that this angelic mezzo is in the best of hands.

Throughout, most of the cuts are performed like olde English art songs.

This is particularly so on a warmly sung medley joining “There’s Still My Joy” with the traditional “O Tannenbaum.

” Other nuggets range from a prayerful “walk-on-in-spite-of-everything” type canticle, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” with an infectious music box underpinning on a fugue-like theme of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” that slides into the traditional classic beauty with Spencer’s ethereal vocals. Simplistically, the disc becomes a humble reflection of the human hope that the season offers.

“Sure on This Shining Night” is achingly beautiful with a riveting piano intro leading into a cello supporting Spencer on “Silent Night” that suggests the vocal equivalent of a slowly unfolding flower. Other exceptional standouts include: the title cut paired with Beethoven’s “Pathetique”; the bucolic theme from the movie On Golden Pond leading into “Would It Still Be Christmas?.” The premiere of Keith Thompson’s “Peace for Christmastime This Year” is a beauty that is refreshing, timely, and contemporary “…this song is so simple, the message is clear—let there be peace on earth this Christmastime this year….”

There’s more on this disc that spans the centuries and brings it home to the world we live in. And, it’s all about as perfect as a Christmas album can be.

Not enough can be said about the sheer beauty of Fortenberry’s arrangements (some conceived with Spencer) and his prodigious keyboard touch. This recording is the definition of collaboration at its finest. Other superb musicians include Moonlight Tran (cello) and Eric Tewalt (soprano saxophone), with Thompson serving as orchestral arranger for cello and soprano sax.

John Hoglund

For over 30 years, John Hoglund has been a respected entertainment writer covering cabaret, jazz, theater and recordings. His writings have appeared in numerous outlets including the Bistro Bits column for Back Stage. John moderated seminars and forums for the International Cabaret Conference At Yale. He produced many celebrity fundraisers in NYC including one of the first benefits after 9/11: “HeartSong:The Heroes' Concert” at The Bottom Line featuring 36 major stars. He co-produced “HeartSong2: The Heroes' Concert” for Katrina victims at Symphony Space and “Miracle On 35th Street” with a star-studded lineup. Other fund raising efforts include the first benefits for Broadway Cares and God's Love, We Deliver. John served on the Board of Directors of MAC for 12 years. He is well known for championing new and rising talents.