The Second Disc

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“Would You Believe” Carmen McRae’s Funky Soul-Jazz Classic is Back from BBR?

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1976’s Can’t Hide Love, recently reissued by Big Break Records, wasn’t jazz singer Carmen McRae’s first venture into contemporary territory.  Like so many other interpretive vocalists who had begun their careers in a pre-Beatles world, McRae found herself adopting an “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” credo towards the increasingly prevalent rock genre, which had itself recently dropped the “and roll” to create a whole new sound.  1967’s Atlantic release For Once in My Life adventurously saw McRae tackling two Beach Boys songs off Pet Sounds (“Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” and “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times”) plus The Beatles (“Got to Get You into My Life”), the folk of Buffy Sainte Marie (“Until It’s Time for You to Go”) and the pop-soul of Burt Bacharach and Hal David (“The Look of Love”).  The Sound of Silence and Portrait of Carmen (both 1968) added Jimmy Webb, Paul Simon, Margo Guryan and Bob Lind into the songwriting mix.  As the 1970s dawned, Just a Little Lovin’ featured an early song by Tom Waits (“I Want You”) alongside a cut from Laura Nyro and more from Jimmy Webb and The Beatles.  Moving on from Atlantic, McRae continued to pursue a diverse path, returning to her rightfully cherished American standards, recording an album of songs by one Bob Friedman and trying soul/jazz at CTI competitor Groove Merchant.  But McRae’s most aggressive courting of the modern soul market was Can’t Hide Love, on Blue Note.

For Can’t Hide Love, the singer assembled her most eclectic songwriters’ roster yet: Bill Withers and Skip Scarborough from the R&B world, Cy Coleman from Broadway, Chick Corea from modern jazz, James Taylor and Eric Carmen from the pop/rock side – plus a couple of guys with the surname Gershwin and a certain Vincent Furnier, or Alice Cooper.  Yet the ten-track LP is surprisingly cohesive, and makes for another exciting reissue to arrive from the thriving Big Break label.  Today, its fusion of jazz with rock, R&B and soul elements sounds utterly natural.  McRae surrounded herself with some of the best of the best on the musical side: Dave Grusin, Larry Carlton, Ernie Watts, Joe Sample, Harvey Mason, Chuck Berghofer and Wilton Felder all supported her on various tracks.  In fact, the overall style isn’t too far from the accessible jazz being popularized on Creed Taylor’s CTI label.

Hit the jump for much more on this lost classic, including the full track listing with discography, and an order link!

“You can’t pretend that there’s nothin’ there/So why stop tryin’ to run and hide?/You won’t find out if you never try…”  McRae brought her interpretive skill honed over the decades (her first album came in 1954 for Bethlehem Records) to Skip Scarborough’s saucy title track, originally recorded by Earth, Wind and Fire, proving that she could do R&B as well as any of the younger women storming the charts.  Even without EWF, the song calls out for horns, and the brass is cooking.  McRae’s scatting simply adds to the sizzling, lightly funk-flecked track.  And she imbued Eric Carmen’s smash hit “All by Myself” with a smoky soul, her Billie Holiday-influenced voice lending itself perfectly to producer Dale Oehler’s stripped-down arrangement.  McRae deftly draws out each syllable of the lyric, dripping controlled emotion in this late-night rendition complete with cocktail piano solo from Marshall Orwell.  There’s an easy charm to Oehler’s jazzy arrangement and McRae’s vocal on James Taylor’s “Music,” a paean to the power of song itself.  McRae sounds as if she relished the open sentiment of “There’s a symphony inside you…there’s a thousand things for you to do” in Taylor’s lyric.  Her unique phrasing, always taking into account the value of pauses and breaths, is strongly in evidence on Kenny Rankin’s “Lost in Loving You.”

For purists, the most enduring track might be a straightforward reading of George and Ira Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,” arranged by veteran composer Johnny Mandel.  It’s expectedly lovely, as is McRae’s take on Cy Coleman and James Lipton’s all too little known “Would You Believe.”  (Yes, Coleman’s lyricist was that James Lipton – from television’s Inside the Actors’ Studio.  Lipton’s theatrical career has also included the lyrics to the Broadway musical Sherry!)  Coleman’s melodies (“Witchcraft,” “The Best is yet to Come,” “Big Spender”) are always delights for singers to wrap their pipes around, and the bluesy “Would You Believe” is no exception.  Johnny Mandel exquisitely orchestrated it here.  Cy Coleman began his career as a jazz pianist, before turning his attention to Broadway and film scores.  Another selection on Can’t Hide Love is drawn from another jazz pianist, Chick Corea.  “You’re Everything,” introduced by Return to Forever, takes unexpected melodic turns, but McRae navigates them with ease in this lively, big-band-styled recording.   Trumpeter Thad Jones arranged his own now-standard “A Child is Born” for the album.  (Jones did the charts, too, for Bill Withers’ “I Wish You Well” and “You’re Everything.”)

Alice Cooper’s “Only Women Bleed” might be the most attention-grabbing song on the album, growled by McRae against a background of funky guitar and piano in Larry Carlton’s arrangement.  The singer uses her storytelling skills to bring to life the tale of domestic abuse.  The song is also heard in its single version as the new CD’s lone bonus track.  (“Music” was its B-side, not repeated here in single form.)

Nick Robbins has nicely remastered this reissue, produced by BBR’s Wayne Dickson and Leon Fort.  Stephen “SPAZ” Schnee supplies the liner notes, which detail the album’s history and explore each of its songs.  Following Can’t Hide Love, McRae continued to pursue a path of her own making, with many acclaimed albums to come exploring various areas of the musical landscape.  Another contemporary-themed effort was 1980’s I’m Coming Home Again, drawn from the work of Billy Joel, Paul Williams and Roger Nichols, Melissa Manchester, Al Jarreau, Marvin Hamlisch and Peter Allen, to name just some of its writers.  McRae passed away in 1994.

There’s plenty to savor on the expanded Can’t Hide Love.  It’s in stores now, and can be ordered below!

Carmen McRae, Can’t Hide Love (Blue Note BN-LA635-G, 1976 – reissued Big Break CDBBR 0144, 2012)

  1. Can’t Hide Love
  2. The Man I Love
  3. Only Women Bleed
  4. I Wish You Well
  5. All by Myself
  6. Music
  7. Lost Up in Loving You
  8. You’re Everything
  9. Would You Believe
  10. A Child is Born
  11. Only Women Bleed (Single Version) (Blue Note single BN-XW-869-Y, 1976)


Written by Joe Marchese

September 17, 2012 at 14:42

Posted in Carmen McRae, News, Reissues

One Response

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  1. Thank you for reviewing Carmen.

    I recommend that people check out the many “grey market” (public domain) European CD reissues of Carmen’s 1950’s Decca and Kapp label records. Get them while you can!

    A very special Carmen disc was titled “Bittersweet”, originally on the Focus LP label, and once available on CD (1964?).

    Then there is the ultimate Carmen recording “As Time Goes By – Alone at the Dug” with just Carmen accompanying herself on the piano in a Japanese nightclub. It is available on a Japanese import


    September 19, 2012 at 07:54

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