By Daniel Garrett
Amel Larrieux, Lovely Standards
All songs arranged by Amel Larrieux, Yakir Benhur, Laru Larrieux
Executive Producer: Laru Larrieux
Blisslife Records/ADA-WMG, 2007
Is beauty alone significant? Is beauty without reference to spirituality, philosophy, or politics enough?…Amel Larrieux’s first came to the attention of lovers of popular music with her work with Bryce Wilson as part of the band Groove Theory and its 1995 self-titled album, which inspired expectations, and though the band did not continue, Larrieux has maintained admirers with her solo recordings, which include Infinite Possibilities (2000), an album that celebrated promise itself, and Bravebird (2004), and Morning (2006), with the last album noted for its international styles. Larrieux , who has collaborated with jazz musician Stanley Clarke, and the band Sweetback, has been trying to do something different—something creative, something fine. The lovely Amel Larrieux’s collection of songs Lovely Standards is a sweet delight. It is important to value music for what it includes but also for what it leaves out. “If I Were A Bell,” the song by Frank Loesser, is delicately syncopated, and though Larrieux can—and does belt—some of her lines, she prefers a soft, whispery tone. On Lovely Standards, Amel Larrieux lends her voice to “Try Your Wings,” “Wild Is the Wind,” “You’re My Thrill,” and “If I Loved You,” among other songs: songs of care and craft, of thought and feeling, of experiences that are important and common—songs of a perfection that they survive changing public taste.
Amel Larrieux’s delivery of “Lucky to Be Me,” by Leonard Bernstein with Comden and Green, a song about gratitude for love, is fresh: Larrieux is not imitating any established singer; and she, with charm and intensity, explores the lyrics with a directness and simplicity and thoughtfulness that give them immediacy, liveliness. (She has said that she makes “Amel’s music” and is concerned, already, with the quality of her legacy.) In “Younger Than Springtime” (Rodgers and Hammerstein), and the other songs on Lovely Standards, what Amel Larrieux’s song selection and performance leave out are rage and resentment, chaos and noise, the usual capitulation to the worst in human nature. What others include in the name of radicality or truth—what has actually become commonplace—she leaves out.
Thoughtless words and actions are followed by “Something Wonderful,” in the Rodgers and Hammerstein song of that name; and in it, Amel Larrieux reads a line with the most forceful passion—something that emphasizes that she has chosen intimacy and fragility as her main mode, not out of lack of ability, but out of temperament and taste. “I Like the Sunrise” by Edward Kennedy Ellington, music’s Duke, goes from delicate to tumultuous, with an anticipation, a drama, that has an erotic aura. I am glad that Amel Larrieux has made Lovely Standards, a recording that will not ignite a revolution in the arts, in the churches and temples, or in the streets: however, it can inspire delight, and even thought, in the listener. How often do we need less beauty in the world?
Daniel Garrett, Louisiana-born and a longtime New York resident, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the founder of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at ABC No Rio and Poets House, is a writer of essays and creative work, including fiction, drama, and poetry. His work has appeared in The African, AllAboutJazz.com, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Cinetext.Philo, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, IdentityTheory.com, Muse Apprentice Guild, Offscreen, Option, PopMatters.com, Rain Taxi, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, and World Literature Today. For The Compulsive Reader, Daniel Garrett has written on music, films, and books. Author contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com