BWW CD Review: Gretchen Reinhagen Brings Her A-Game With Her Album TAKE IT WITH ME
A performer widely known for her skill with comedy, Gretchen Reinhagen set the funny aside and put on her serious hat for her debut CD "Take It With Me." The versatile Reinhagen, perhaps best remembered for a greatly respected tribute show about her idol Kaye Ballard, is much more than a funny girl influenced by the comediennes who paved the way for a woman of her individuality and natural wit, as her maiden voyage into the recording studio proves. The song list alone is enough to pique one's interest, with Reinhagen offering listeners everything from Rodgers & Hart to Bob Dylan - it is a dream come true for any music lover with tastes reaching beyond the labels people may wish to place on them. While there may be those who only listen to show music, or who play jazz exclusively, many is the aficionado who happily enjoys the variety offered on a CD like "Take It With Me," an album that begins with a little Doobie Brothers and ends with some Tom Waits, with side trips to Barbra Streisand and, yes, Miss Kaye Ballard. Gretchen Reinhagen's musical tastes are, clearly, as varied and multi-leveled as the lady herself, leaving one with a strong case of the "Good Thing Blues."
The "Good Thing Blues" is, in fact, one of the original compositions on the CD. Ms. Reinhagen, clearly a loyal friend and artist who knows what she likes, has taken it upon herself to feature, on the 13-track CD, songs penned by members of her artistic family, including the bouncy, lyrically clever "Different For Girls" by Karen Mack, the easy-going and expressive "One More Spring" by Barry Kleinbort, a soulful and lilting "The Right Time" by Andrew David Sotomayor (who plays for Reinhagen on the track), and two songs by musical director Tracy Stark, "Life's Been Kind," which sits in Reinhagen's aesthetic so much that one wonders if it was written expressly for her, and the aforementioned sassy "Good Thing Blues" by Stark and Reinhagen. It's a wise choice to balance her album with a mix of songs her audience knows with new material, especially on a debut recording - it assists the singer in staking a claim in which she announces who she is as an artist, where her mission statement lies, and what kind of musical storytelling she wishes to provide for her listeners. It sets Gretchen Reinhagen apart as a woman standing on her own, not one content to follow standards set by others.
For the half of the album made up of covers, Ms. Reinhagen leans heavily on prolific musical director Tracy Stark in an attempt to step away from that which we already know. Not one of the songs made famous by Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Wonder, Streisand, Ballard, Joplin, Dylan or Waits resembles those well-known recordings - indeed, the inspired, jazzy, and rather tongue in cheek "Don't Rain On My Parade" renders the song almost unrecognizable; stepping out of the shadow of a legend is always a savvy move for a singing artist to make. It is, therefore, important to note that, while Ms. Stark does a magnificent job as musical director, she is credited as arranger for some cuts on the CD, while other arrangements are attributed to Misters Sotomayor and Kleinbort, and Paul Greenwood. This is a CD with so much artistry at every turn, that reading the liner notes becomes more than necessary, it becomes a privilege. To acknowledge executive producer Raymond Renault and his associates Deborah Meyers & Ann Reinhagen is a pleasure, to know that you are listening to musicians the like of Tom Hubbard, Rex Benineasa, and the incomparable Don Kelly makes the experience greater, and to be aware that the background vocals are a choir of some of the best voices in the business is thrilling. And all of that glorious music is captured on a CD that has been masterfully produced and mixed by Paul Rolnick, who knows precisely how to keep the voices ahead of the instruments without the musicians fading completely into the background, and how to bring out nuances in the recording that produces with less experience might miss. Rolnick proves, once again, why he is in demand, through absolute professional and reverent craftsmanship, making "Take It With Me" one of the essential releases of the last year.
As for Gretchen Reinhagen herself - this sweet-voiced singing actor would be well advised to begin planning her next CD because this album, coincidentally a MAC and Bistro Award recipient for Best Recording, will inspire a demand for more music, hardly surprising, since her technique as a singer and her inspiration as a storyteller afford her audience a sublimely artistic and surprisingly human journey, from start to finish; and though this writer's favorite cuts on the CD are the sexy "Lazy Afternoon" and life-affirming "I Shall Be Released," there is no denying that the culmination in the journey, and Reinhagen's entire performance on the disc, is the closing title track - one of the tenderest, wistful, most introspective, loving and human recordings I've heard since Nancy LaMott sang "In Passing Years." This cut is musical perfection and, alone, worth the purchase of the album but, dear reader, this word of advice: don't buy this CD and skip right to the final cut - listen to "Take It With Me" from start to finish. This is a journey, and it must be taken as a journey, at least for the first listen. You won't be sorry.
Take It With Me is on the Raw Diamond Records label and is available on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, and Youtube, with hard copies available at CD Baby.