Stacy Sullivan: Tornado Alley

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Stacy Sullivan

Tornado Alley

(LML Music)

January 26, 2019

Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes

Stacy Sullivan acknowledges she comes from a family of risk takers. Never has this been more evident than in the past five robust years during which the artist has been musically executing trapeze moves without a net. Her powerful, theater-in-song piece, Separate Ways (with Todd Murray) clearly embodied the arc of a struggling relationship without a word spoken. The Sultry Side of Cole viewed Cole Porter’s work through the lens of his classical training. (Unfortunately neither has been recorded.)

Tornado Alley was presented in nascent form at the Metropolitan Room (RIP) in 2015 under the title Since You Asked. The deeply autobiographical concert has since been revised. As with the Porter piece, classical influence is omipresent. Marvelous arrangements by Troy Fannin feature strings with creative finesse, and offer Sullivan the opportunity to employ country and jazz chops, giving the CD an original sound. Add to this an eclectic taste in songs and you have another innovative effort.

If the CD contained show patter—how I wish it did—you’d hear the wonderfully colorful history of six generations of Sullivans loosely framed around weather, both real and metaphoric. This may be the only family to return to the Oklahoma dustbowl because the California climate was too good. Spoken stories would offer context absent on the disc.

David Hajdu/Renee Rosnes’ “Who Do You Belong To?” describes coltish flirtation with a diner waitress.

Who do you belong to, darlin’?” the server asks in a cloud of “Crisco and cinnamon, Clairol and Kents.” Verses arrive as jazz, the chorus as country. Sullivan adeptly slip/slides from one cadence to the other with a sweet tease in her voice. She’s a subtle actress and likes to tell stories. Hajdu, an upscale Bruce Springsteen, writes poetic vignettes with working class roots.

“Confound Me” (Hajdu/Rosnes) is a provocative, contemporary ballad. Shadowy lyrics are as much request as dare. “Flick the lights and change the station/Disrupt me, Rip my shirt/Chose your favorite provocation/Corrupt me and make me hurt.” Sullivan’s natural smokiness adds immeasurably. The character is exposed, the vocalist unflinching. A low-key performance gives the subject matter kick without sensationalizing.

“Good Things Happen Slowly” “bad things happen fast” (Hajdu/Fred Hersch) is an infectiously melodic number with a super hook. Plumbing sentiment with finesse, the singer seems to speak for us all. (She can do that.) Guitar thrum and playful piano sweeps up the vocal in “How Little We Know” (Johnny Mercer/Hoagy Carmichael). Sullivan soars like a happy kite.

An indelible “Stormy Weather” (Ted Koehler/Harold Arlen) is poignant and disarmingly intimate, neither loud nor stressed. “Shelter” (Ray LaMontagne) features a sashaying, slow-mo two-step. “Want” is pronounced “wont” “I” becomes “i hi i.” Despite the classy strings, the interpretation is as honest as homemade pie on a window sill. Sincerity and warmth are Stacy Sullivan performance traits. You can hear as well as see them.

Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” and Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” offer an inspired sequence. There’s deep disappointment here, as well as stoicism. Things are not as they should be. Too true. How a guitar can elicit this lovely sound with such light touch confounds.

“Since You Asked” (Judy Collins) emerges with evocative, sometimes exaggerated pauses. The key is low and the delivery hushed. Strings act as fault lines, fine cracks in the calm. The performer shimmers with emotion. A gauzy, seductive “Wild Is the Wind” (Dimitri Tiomkin/Ned Washington) showcases Sullivan’s skill with musical pearlizing. Even high and soft, her voice doesn’t grow thin and her phrasing is extraordinary.

“You Must Believe in Spring” floats in pristine. This rendition should appear in the dictionary to define wistful. (Alan and Marilyn Bergman/Jacques Demy/Michel Legrand.

) With a red-herring intro from “Over the Rainbow” (Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg), George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” is a testimony to sustained hope.

Weather is precarious, and emotion is a minefield Sullivan seems to say so hold to the essentials and one another. This is a CD that shows sensitivity and gumption.

Accompaniment is provided by Troy Fannin (producer/arranger/guitar), Matthew Watanabe (piano), Jamie Mohamdein (bass), Bobbie Crowe III (cello), and Gökçe Erem (violin).

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.