Nora York: Swoon

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Nora York

with Jamie Lawrence


(Good Mood Records)

October 14, 2019

Reviewed by John Hogland for Cabaret Scenes

With the release of Swoon, Good Mood Records celebrates the artistry of the late and innovative pop-jazz/mash-up artist Nora York who died in 2016.

The posthumous CD was produced by and features her collaborator, composer/pianist Jamie Lawrence. Refined musical juxtapositions and crossing-genres are York’s calling card. She amassed many accolades throughout a career that was well-praised by major publications, and made frequent appearances at the Knitting Factory and Joe’s Pub, where a tribute concert took place on October 7, 2019 to launch the disc.

The album contains an eclectic mix of songs sung by York. For instance, several were written with theatrical projects in mind, such as Amelia, a theater piece about Amelia Earhart. “Earliest Memory” and “Rain Came Down” were composed for a musical project about climate change. York also collaborated with Lawrence on “Rome Is Burning” for an original musical theater piece about Sarah Bernhardt and the French play, Tosca. Lawrence notes, “Nora kept coming up with ideas for albums and musical-theater shows, and we kept recording them.
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” Their collaboration began in 2002.

The CD is filled with honest and unique interpretations of jazz-fused melodies and even some reinvented rock and roll, such as the surprise opener, Elvis Presley’s famed “All Shook Up” (Otis Blackwell/Presley) given a languid, smoky treatment that is intriguing. On Prince’s beautiful “Nothing Compares to U,” she creates an emotional platform that rivets as she envelopes the listener with an individualized style that is so painfully honest it becomes a heartbreaker that defies category. Here, she is both mournful and powerful in her genuineness. Such supple shadings are only a part of what makes her the polished interpretive artist she is. “In the Morning.” another original, is a pensive ballad with extended solos by the musicians that envelopes the listener in a free-spirited reflection of a strong woman who gets up after she falls. York’s interpretation is yearning and filled with a vivacity that is compelling: “every time I fall down, I just stand up again/and I feel so much but I feel no fear that I’m gonna break through.” The lyric seems to reflect some personalized inner thoughts as she moves forward in life with no regrets. A gentle, driving jazz pulse underscores this impressive cut. The disc is jazz/blues at its best as sung by a prime annotator of the heart, and that is what this tribute album is all about. York uses her voice as a vessel for colorful emotions that she makes come to life with a veracity that is often missing among some of today’s newer jazz singers (who could learn so much from Nora York). Another original wraps it all up. “The Hill” is a touching ballad with a country feel featuring the poignant accordion of Charlie Giordano (from Bruce Springsteen’s band). In this moving lyric, York unfolds a simple story of a little boy’s journey to manhood: “look up, look up and see the world keeps spinning round and round/your own true heart holds the hope of the world.
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” The song, much like Nora York, opens a world crafted in whispered reflections of optimism with only a few heartfelt words that matter—just like the singer on this special CD.

This is a compilation album with cuts recorded over the years with various musicians directed by Jamie Lawrence.

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.