Minda Larsen: The Long Way Home: The Songs of Johnny Mercer

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Minda Larsen

The Long Way Home: The Songs of Johnny Mercer

January 23, 2018

Reviewed by John Hoglund for Cabaret Scenes

Minda Larsen is an old-fashioned girl with a promising theme for her new album, The Long Way Home: a tribute to lyricist Johnny Mercer. Singing in a willowy alto that vaguely recalls Tierney Sutton in a crooning mode, she offers light spins on some of Mercer’s most beloved collaborations. She shows promise of great things to come through her modest, genteel delivery on these evergreens. The key word is modest. While beautifully arranged—by Neal Kirkwood (piano), with Aidan O’Donnell (bass), Lieven Venken (drums), and produced by Charles Czarnecki—some cuts call for more dynamics to avoid a sameness in the mix. Her talent is there and it’s obvious. Consequently, such things as effective vocal effusion are relevant in familiar songs and especially when honoring someone as esteemed as Mercer. These standards have been recorded by numerous greats over the decades.

Therefore, additional use of subtle, personalized nuances add the vocal color needed to complement the potential that is her own. That said, this is a fine album and she’s off to a good start.

Larsen kicks it off with a cool “Something’s Gotta Give.” The cherished “Skylark,” written with Hoagy Carmichael, is given an understated treatment that is intelligent. Her restraint is interesting as this classic is sometimes over-sung by those who opt for style over substance. Larsen has a disarmingly gentle voice that can be expressive, as on a compelling “Dream.” Here, she brings the song’s yearning in a way that personalizes the trenchant lyrics. This is particularly effective, making for a definite highlight. The same is true on a seductive take on “Goody Goody”(co-written with Matty Malneck) that segues into “I Wanna Be Around” (co-written with Sadie Vimmerstedt).

This clever duo, which incorporates a mischievous playfulness, simply works, making for a meaningful cut that infuses the message and hits all the assorted and sordid emotions needed. Again, it’s substance over style that prevails making this cut a winner. A similar formula is also evident on Mercer’s collaboration with Henry Mancini. She offers two classics in a lush arrangement. “Whistling Away the Dark” ingeniously slides into “Days of Wine and Roses” as a mournful love story unfolds in a lithe and jazzy style, mixing sentiment and anger emulating from a calm center. It is all underpinned by a bracing piano interlude that enhances the drama of these story-songs as they unfold. Other standouts include a jazz-fueled “Let’s Take the Long Way Home” with another dazzling piano arrangement. A rarity, written with Harold Arlen, it is exceptional. She caps it all with a warm “I Remember You” (Victor Schertzinger). Ultimately, Minda Larsen offers a classy, respectful homage to one of the all-time great storytellers on this easy-listen CD.

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.