Similar to video games, I will often buy music on impulse. Most times I do this, it is like my recent Kris Davis or Ches Smith purchases where there was limited ability for me to preview – and based on previous experience with the artists I had confidence. Or something like Justin Timberlake, where I was able to take advantage of a special deal and expiring credit and knew my family would enjoy at least a couple of songs. But when I heard Molly Ringwald was releasing a traditional jazz vocal album, I went ahead and used another expiring credit to grab it. Was it a good impulse or a waste of credit? Read on and find out!
Musical Genre: Jazz
Artist: Molly Ringwald
When most of us think of Molly Ringwald we think of the actress at the center of classic 80s movies like Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink. But even before those films, Ringwald had been recorded in a song for an album made by her father’s group. In recent interviews, she talks about her life-long love of music stemming from her jazz pianist father, and how she has always enjoyed singing. Now at 45 she has the chance to focus on making the kind of album she has always dreamed about, one that is very personal and uniquely her own.
On ‘Except Sometimes’, Molly Ringwald charts her way through the well-traveled courses of the ‘Great American Songbook’. The compositions are from familiar names such as Stephen Sondheim, Hoagy Carmichael, Oscar Hammerstein, Jerome Kern and more. Fortunately these are not the over-done songs that some others have trotted out in recent years. The arrangements are well prepared for a very traditional small-group recording
The immediate thing I found myself thinking was that there wasn’t really a major criticism I had right up until the ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ finale. That is not the same as saying I really liked it, more that it didn’t do anything wrong. The musicians played very well together, were all seasoned pros used to backing a singer, and they were practiced at making the singer shine in all settings.
Ringwald is a solid vocalist, but she is struck by the double-edged sword of her established fame. I wouldn’t have bought this recording had I not already known Ringwald and felt supportive of her recent success and that she was attempting to do something she loved by releasing a jazz album. Yet having bought this as MUSIC, all that gets pushed aside when I listen … and the results are rather pedestrian and unremarkable.
Comparing Ringwald to established (and younger) jazz vocalists such as Diana Krall, Karyn Allison, Esperanza Spalding and up-and-comer Karo Glazer … well, it really isn’t a fair comparison. I liked the music enough to not call this a ‘vanity project’, but ultimately this remains one of those ‘actor releases an album’ projects – a curiosity.
The obvious showpiece is the finale ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’, the Simple Minds song that was a centerpiece of the Breakfast Club soundtrack. It also happens to be my least favorite song on the album. Most of the album consists of classically structured songs that are adaptable to a variety of settings, and work well in the singer & small group format. But ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ doesn’t travel well – you are left thinking only about how much better the original song was, and probably will flip over to that version before this version ends … and never return.
‘Quick Hit’ Song: “I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes)” – this Hoagy Carmichael standard is perfectly suited to Ringwald’s voice and to her sunny disposition. The song itself is ‘pleasantly melancholy’, trying to convince herself that she is doing better than she actually is after a breakup. Ringwald’s voice imbues feeling throughout without ever resorting to ‘American Idol’ melisma or oversinging.
Would I recommend?: Not really … but that doesn’t mean it is a BAD recording. If you are looking for a better vocal jazz album, hit up the latest by Esperanza Spalding or Diana Krall. If you want the Great American Songbook, no one did it better than Ella Fitzgerald. And if you really want to hear Molly Ringwald singing … head to YouTube, like all the other cool kids are doing.
Suggested audience: Either Molly Ringwald fans or fans of ‘Great American Songbook’ recordings by small group jazz vocal ensembles.
Here is the promotional video for the album from Concord Records: