Bob Levy: All About Love: The Dane Vannatter Recordings, Vol. II

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Bob Levy

All About Love: The Dane Vannatter Recordings, Vol. II

(Silk River Music)

July 8, 2024

Reviewed by John Amodeo

MAC-Award winning composer/lyricist Bob Levy has followed up last year’s release of his sumptuous recording Ever Since We Met: The Dane Vannatter Recordings with the equally sumptuous new release All About Love: The Dane Vannatter Recordings: Vol. II. As if by request, it was released much “sooner than someday,” to quote a lyric and song title from Levy’s Vol. I. The symbiosis and synergy between MAC-Award winning Dane Vannatter’s smooth jazz vocals and Levy’s romantic musical sonnets is as evident in this second collection as it was in the first.

In this recording Levy brings together 15 well-crafted original songs, all with lyrics by Levy, set to music by four composers, including Levy himself. The other three composers are Alex Rybeck, Harriet Goldberg, and Tracy Stark, all MAC Award-winning composers themselves who wrap Levy’s lyrics in a comfortable blanket of melody and harmony. Their collaborations result in a cohesive song cycle that provides a tender massage for the listener’s ears, mind, and heart.

As the album’s title All About Love indicates, the recording, much like Vol. I, explores all the facets of love, from naïve love and new love to experienced love and even failed love. What is made clear within this romantic kaleidoscope is that no matter which stage of love is being sung about, what is paramount is that we love and are loved in return, and Levy’s sentimental lyrics express feelings and emotions we’ve all felt at one time or another.

The recording opens lightly with “About Love,” a lively song about wanting to experience all “about love.” In it, Levy’s bouncy melody and wishful lyrics setting a hopeful tone for the entire recording. If Vannatter had done nothing but trade in seduction, he’d be a rich man, as evidenced in “Slow Dancing,” where Rybeck’s haunting composition along with Vannatter’s vocals pulls us in ever closer. When Vannatter finally croons, “I’ve turned the lights down low,” it’s enough to make anyone swoon. Levy’s bright outlook on love comes through in “I’ve Got a Feeling” (music by Goldberg), which allows Levy’s lyrics, such as “Ever since I saw your face/I’ve been somewhere off in space/in a most enchanted place,” to float on air like a leaf on the breeze.

Levy’s proclivity toward candlelit romance shines through on “Never Be Alone,” another one of his gorgeous melodies; it has complex harmonies and intervals that emphasize such key words as “destiny” to make a breathtaking declaration of love. When Vannatter’s sultry voice whispers at the end of the first verse, “I think it’s time for us to kiss,’ we know that’s just what happens during the musical interlude that follows.

Levy brings more than a passing focus on fading and failed love, where yearning and heartbreak clearly form the other side of the romance coin.  In “Is This Still Love,” the singer wonders aloud what is left in a long-term relationship when the bloom fades from the rose. Vannatter’s superb acting chops turn this into a one-act play. Vannatter then waxes romantic on the Levy/Stark composition “Next Time;” in it his honeyed voice and emotional commitment are effectively showcased, especially in the wistful lyric, “If only life and love/would come with certainty/a roadmap that was clear/one that brought us near that place we long to be.” On the Levy/Rybeck collaboration “It’s Just a Song,” Levy’s lyric places love on a pedestal and gives even more reason to mourn its end when Vannatter laments “Now you’re gone/the words seem wrong/It’s just a song,” making poignant use of song as a metaphor for love. It may be in writing about love lost that Levy is at his most incurably romantic.

A refreshingly unexpected perspective on love shows up in the fun “protest” song “I Won’t Sing a Song About Love.” Here the singer unsuccessfully tries to convince us (and himself) that he’s done with love and romance when we know that he isn’t. Levy’s insightful and colorful lyrics shine here with “It should be a crime/I’d give Cupid a fine,” and, more poignantly, with “The moonlight gives a false illusion/night can cause the heart confusion.” This poetic imagery draws us in and surrounds us. Levy gives us another twist on love with “Best as I Can,” where Levy and Rybeck’s jazzy up-tempo sound serves this slightly sardonic song well. This “sorry/not sorry” song in the Dave Frishberg vein defends a love that falls short of enough with such cutting lyrics as “You’re not the first one who’s out at sea/while I’m on shore.” This “take me or leave me” perspective adds a nice twist to Levy’s otherwise traditional takes on romance.

Levy works only with top instrumentalists, and as in Vol. I, Daniel May is the recording’s most represented music director. He provides enrichment, especially with his lush chords that draw out the pathos in the Levy/Rybeck gem “What Else Can I Do?” and with the way he makes Levy’s music in “We’ll Be Fine” sizzle. In addition to superb pianists Ed Ridley and Alex Rybeck, Levy features the remarkable Doug Hammer on two numbers, who worked with Vannatter frequently during his early years. Hammer brings a beautifully delicate touch to the tender “Is This Still Love,” while Peter Sachon’s plaintive cello fills this song with yearning. Jeff Slater’s walking bass in “I Won’t Sing a Song About Love” keeps the stride steady, with determination and thank goodness for Benny Benack III’s bright trumpet opening on the optimistic “I’ve Got a Feeling,” which picks us up off the floor after being slayed by the sweetly sorrowful “Is This Still Love.”

Ending the recording with the lovely but sad “It’s Over” ties a nice bow on the arc of love explored on this recording as we ponder the romantic journey Levy has taken us on. With Vannatter as his muse, it’s a journey we won’t mind taking again and again.

John Amodeo

John Amodeo has been a contributing writer to Cabaret Scenes since 1998, has written cabaret articles for Theatermania.com, was a cabaret journalist for Bay Windows (1999-2005), and then for Edge Publications (2005-present).  John has been producer, assistant producer, and host for several Boston-area cabaret galas over the past 25 years, and produced Brian De Lorenzo’s MACC-nominated recording “Found Treasures.” His liner notes grace several cabaret CDs. John holds degrees in landscape architecture from Cornell and Harvard Universities, and has been practicing landscape architecture in Boston for 35 years, where he is a partner in his firm. John was a founding member of the Boston Association of Cabaret Artists (BACA), and served as BACA Vice President for 2 terms. He is happily married to his favorite cabaret artist Brian De Lorenzo.

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