Mike Winters: A Pre-Existing Condition

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Mike Winters

A Pre-Existing Condition

(LML Music)

November 5, 2019

Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes

Mike Winters came to cabaret late in life, after having a full career elsewhere. The Retreat at Heron’s Landing offered intensive workshops that propelled him to record this CD with the help of high school classmate/old friend, vocalist Stacy Sullivan. Winters has an appealing, low-key baritone.

“The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie” (Colter Wall) is cooool and dark. There’s attractive grit in Winters’ insinuating, roadhouse vocal. A few more like this one would be welcome. Aaron Weinstein’s violin is visceral, specific, unique.

The iconic “What’ll I Do?” (Irving Berlin) arrives with lilting, flannel tones and just the faintest vibrato. Winters takes the song from Newport to a campfire. Will Galison’s terrific harmonica creates an evocative thru-line. “And So It Goes” (Billy Joel) sounds traditional—no rock, no roll, no glitz. “Leavin’s Not the Only Way to Go” (Roger Miller) is a roots tune. When Winters goes up an octave, the listener feels longing. A lovely, musing violin adds considerable atmosphere.

“To Make You Feel My Love” (Bob Dylan) emerges as a tremulous declaration. A familiar “Wichita Lineman” finds us gazing across endless flatlands with a deep sigh—no whistle, no yodel. “In Passing Years” (Rick Jensen) is soulful and poignant and there’s that engaging violin again. “For All We Know” might be the last dance at a country social, a one-two sway on fallen crepe paper streamers at the end of an otherwise lively evening. Ahh the harmonica… touching.

A tandem “Do I Love You Becsue You’re Beautiful”/“You Are So Beautiful” is borne on Tedd Firth’s caressing piano. “The sweet invention of a father’s dream (not ‘lover’s’ as was written)” Winters sings; the deft weaving of the two melodies seems organic. This is as tender as it gets. (Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein/Billy Preston & Bruce Fisher.)

Remaining songs have identity issues. While Winters excels at ballads and honky-tonk/ western, 1960s pop feels ersatz here, especially when mixed with country rhythm. It’s as if the performer has one foot in comfortable territory, and one on alien turf.

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.