august 2008

Kate McGarry
Palmetto Records

Heat on medium flame. Instructions for warming up soup? Perhaps so, but the directive also describes Kate McGarry's impressive new display of interpretive singing as captured on If Less Is More...Nothing Is Everything. On reflection, though, a soup analogy is eminently appropriate, when considering that this delectable comestible is redolent with the spice of exploration and rich in savory textures of voices and instruments playing off of, to and with each other in bursts of jazzy improvisation and dreamy flights of pop grandeur. And oh, there's a bit of bad beef in the mix in the misstep that is a frothy interpretation of Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'," which McGarry cut in tribute to the spirit of optimism she feels Barack Obama has inspired during his White House run. Some may hear it as that, to be sure, but others may look around at the state of the world, consider the lightness of McGarry's airy interpretation, and wish she had approached it with the urgency Bruce Springsteen brought to Pete Seeger's "Bring 'Em Home" or the fury James McMurty unleashed in "We Can't Make It Here."

That aside, the rest of the album is a wondrous thing for those who appreciate and are moved by well crafted songs investigated with all the sensitivity and, when appropriate, wit, the artist brings to her medium-cool simmer. She finds a new way into Irving Berlin's "Let's Face The Music and Dance" by approaching it first as a torch song, all hushed tones and melancholic brooding, with Donny McCaslin's mournful sax excursions enhancing the nourish mood; but a little more than halfway through the near-seven-minute journey, McGarry turns it around and refashions it as a hopeful treatise anticipating a positive turn of events obtaining by accepting fate and moving forward; her voice begins to soar, the band joins in her exultation, and she closes it out with a soft, prayer-like reading of the lyric, "we'll hum a different tune." On the strength of Gary Versace's frisky organ support, "You're My Thrill" becomes a roller-coaster ride of exultant emotion, with McGarry responding to the jittery arrangement with an emotionally bifurcated vocal, ascending here, descending there, alternately gleeful and reserved, as Versace works out a soothing Jimmy McGriff feel on the organ. Elsewhere she gets into some bracing Bobby McFerrin-style vocal pyrotechnics with vocalists Jo Lawry and Peter Eldridge on a percussive treatment of "You Don't Have to Cry," complete with an energetic scatting interlude; takes flight amidst the rush of Latin flavored goings-on of "Flor de Lis," another occasion for McCaslin to impress with a discursive sax solo; and showcase her unerring sense of emotional commitment in service to straight-ahead love balladeering in the tender sentiments she caresses in the pop-folk gem, "I Carry Your Heart," all deliberate rhythm and open-hearted testifying to the inexorable power of love, with Jo Lawry adding a striking, layered second vocal to McGarry's that further emphasizes the wonder of the feelings in question. There are a number of fine, young female vocalists now working the same turf as McGarry (see Jane Monheit, for one outstanding example, Tierney Sutton for another), but with If Less Is More...Nothing Is Everything, young Kate threatens to pull away from the pack. It and she are formidable, doubly so. And so tasty too!—David McGee


Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024