Curtis Stigers: Gentleman

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Curtis Stigers



April 10, 2020

Reviewed by Marilyn Lester

As a young man in the early 1990s, singer-songwriter-saxophone player Curtis Stigers did very well as a rock/pop star with hits such as “I Wonder Why” and “You’re All That Matters to Me.” But Stigers was always a deep thinker, looking for ways to set his bar higher and higher. In the new millennium he moved into jazz, a genre the Boise, Idaho native had begun to dabble in as a teenager, playing the sax and jamming with Boise blues and soul jazz pianist Gene Harris. Now 54, Stigers is firmly planted in the jazz world, in a zone of comfortable exploration that has taken him to another bar-raising venture in Gentleman. The new CD, mainly blues-based, probes the nature of masculinity in this modern age. The 12 tracks of the thematic album explore mostly love and loss from the viewpoint of being a good man. Two ardently bluesy, R&B-style numbers focus on and express this concept. “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide” (Nick Lowe), a story-song about owning up and taking responsibility, opens the album, and the eponymous “Gentleman” (Curtis Stigers/David Poe) is the point-of-view piece that defines the singer’s concept, which is to “be a man, a gentle man.”

The sum total of Gentleman is a very personal reflection of the range of emotion only a mature man who’s been through it all can express. This notion is most evident in “Learning to Let You Go” (Larry Goldings/Stigers/Poe), the shortest track on the album. Its upbeat, catchy rhythm belies the loss it addresses, signifying lessons learned and the intimation that hope does spring eternal. In contrast, the country ballads, “Shame on the Rain” (Tom T. Hall) and “Under the Snow” (Poe) in true country fashion, requires sharp objects to be hidden away and plenty of tissues to be located nearby. Yes, it’s OK that a man feel pain; there’s no need for false fronts of callous indifference. If there’s an over-arching premise it might be the old writer’s saw, “boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl.” Three tracks are sweet, beautiful ballads written as odes to the beloved. “A Lifetime Together” (Stigers/Goldings) could easily have been written by Irving Berlin. The last number of Gentleman, a bonus track available on digital formats only, is entitled “Shut-Ins” (Bill DeMain/Goldings).  It is an ultimate ode to love; the number is quietly evocative and intensely heartfelt. This quartet of softly melodic numbers especially showcase Stigers’ ability as storyteller and interpreter of a lyric. His style is understated but powerful. Stigers’ vocals are smooth, yet there’s a subtle gravel in his undertone. More comfortable in lower registers, with a sneaking strain apparent in higher notes, he’s a quiet singer, exceptionally skilled at using vocal dynamics and excellent phrasing to communicate his intention.

In creating Gentleman, Stigers worked with several hand-picked songwriters to create a body of original material, the exception being the inclusion of one standard, “After You’ve Gone” (Turner Layton/Henry Creamer). Perhaps that was meant as an idea or indication that everything old is new again—some things never change, especially in love, life, and loss. The musical back-up is provided by a roster of accomplished artists who lean into the bright arrangements with a subtle dynamic of their own, ebbing and flowing with graceful articulation in support of Stigers’ vocals. The group—organist Larry Goldings, bassist David Piltch, drummer Austin Beede, trumpeter John “Scrapper” Sneider, percussionist Doug Yowell, and cellist Jody Ferber—get to display their chops on the most jazz-oriented number on the album, “Here We Go Again” (Goldings/Stigers/Poe), a catchy R&B tune with plenty of solo turns.

Marilyn Lester

Marilyn Lester left journalism and commercial writing behind nearly two decades ago to write plays. That branch in the road led to screenwriting, script-doctoring, dramaturgy and producing for the stage. Marilyn has also co-authored, as well as edited, books. It seemed the only world of words she hadn’t conquered was criticism, an opportunity that presented itself via Theater Pizzazz. Marilyn has since sought to widen her scope in this form of writing she especially relishes. Marilyn is a member of the Authors Guild, Dramatists Guild, Women in the Arts and Media and The League of Professional Theater Women.