Album Review: Laura Ainsworth – You Asked For It

Laura Ainsworth – You Asked for It album cover

image courtesy of Eclectus Records

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Laura Ainsworth: You Asked For It (Eclectus Records/Ratspack Records)

Texas-based vocalist and song stylist Laura Ainsworth has carved a unique niche for herself in the jazz and vintage pop worlds. Over the last 15 years or so, she has released four albums that spotlight her penchant for blending irony, humor, and legit chops with rare nuggets from the Great American Songbook. Her fifth and latest release emerged from her legion of fan requests for classic and more familiar fare. So, while the stunning ginger-haired musician complied with public demand, she still decided to put her own indelible imprint on the proceedings. “Whenever I perform live, fans always request the old, familiar favorites,” states Ainsworth from the album liner notes. “The band and I love performing them, but we felt there were already enough recorded versions. But fans keep asking me to record them, particularly ‘Cry Me a River’ and ‘Over the Rainbow.’ I do love to put a fresh, personal spin on even the most familiar songs. So I decided to do a requests album as a lark.”

Laura Ainsworth

photo by TGS Photography; photo courtesy of Eclectus Records

The album was produced by long-time keyboardist and music director Brian Piper and Ainsworth. And the combo that is on this disc brings a strong balance of orchestration and improvisation to their approach. Rodney Booth (trumpet, flugelhorn), Chris McGuire (tenor sax), Noel Johnston (guitar), Young Heo (bass), and Steve Barnes (drums) complete the ensemble.

The dozen songs Ainsworth has chosen reflect some of the finest and best loved works from stage and screen. And, on many of these cherished gems, she includes additional verses for the intros and reworks some of the arrangements. Singer Julie London had a hit with “Cry Me a River” in the ‘50s, Joe Cocker revamped the song for the late ‘60s, and Laura Ainsworth revitalizes this classic once again in the modern day. Few singers give this the gravitas and respect it deserves, as the fiery chanteuse delivers on all fronts. It’s an appropriately bluesy and slightly melancholic take, with a straight-ahead jazz feel.

Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are” follows and gets the first of many personal signatures where Ainsworth sets up the song with a musical recitation. By doing this, not only does she make it uniquely her own, but it further connects with the listener in a profound way. Her vocals flow above a tasty horn chart and Piper’s inspired piano solo.

Laura Ainsworth

photo by Alan Mercer; photo courtesy of Eclectus Records

James Bond and Sean Connery fans will surely get a kick out of the kitschy and samba-like “Goldfinger.” Written by Anthony Newley and popularized in the ‘60s by singer Shirley Bassey, Ainsworth gives it all the sexy charm and cool one would expect. Kudos are bestowed saxophonist McGuire who rallies a smooth combo feel.

“Someone to Watch Over Me” is a tender ballad that features just the right amount of nuance and phrasing to tug at your heartstrings. These kinds of songs are Ainsworth’s calling card.

Guitarist Johnston takes a Barney Kessell/Joe Pass-influenced solo on the relaxed and swinging “Scotch and Soda.” In it, the leader cleverly sells the parallel between the inebriation one gets from alcohol and falling in love. Here’s an example of the way Ainsworth blends humor and lyrical wit, “People don’t believe me, they think that I’m just braggin,’ but I could feel the way I do and still be on the wagon.”

Laura Ainsworth

photo by Alan Mercer; photo courtesy of Eclectus Records

Rodgers and Hart’s “Isn’t it Romantic” is a prime example of a standard that has been performed by countless artists. But, true to form, Ainsworth and Piper add a sweet horn chart, a cha-cha beat and engaging interplay on piano, muted trumpet and sax, respectively.

There are some other noteworthy moments on this album as well, but this reviewer would be remiss if we didn’t make mention of this collection’s finale. “Over the Rainbow” is, undoubtedly, one of Harold Arlen’s most famous compositions and has a timeless mix of fantasy and wonder that has touched generations. Ainsworth and Piper boil this essential piece down to its essence with just voice and piano. And with it, the classic songstress properly delivers a message of hope and dreams to all those that will hear. It’s a very endearing and sincere performance.

Miscellany

Here at the Blog in 2021, Eric Harabadian also reviewed Laura’s previous album, Top Shelf.

This past October, Laura recorded “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” a song she released on December 3rd. You can view a YouTube video of the song here.

You can remain informed about new releases and developments in Laura’s career on her website, on her Facebook page, or by following her on Twitter or Instagram.

Album Review: Laura Ainsworth – Top Shelf

Laura Ainsworth – Top Shelf

image courtesy of Eclectus Records

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Laura Ainsworth: Top Shelf (Eclectus Records/Ratspack Records)

Vocalist Laura Ainsworth hails from Dallas, Texas and is a contemporary artist who is a brilliant interpreter of song. She’s kind of a Great American Songbook revivalist on one hand, but that would only tell part of the story. Her keen sense of style and sharp wit allow her to take established musical gems and rare nuggets and infuse them with a heavy dose of irony, humor, charm and candor. And her gossamer phrasing brings a unique personality to each song where she makes it her own.

Top Shelf is a deluxe packaged collection of the best from her previous independently released albums Keep it to Yourself, Necessary Evil and New Vintage. Courtesy of Japanese distributor Ratspack Records, this vinyl and CD formatted release features extensive liner notes and lyrics, previously unreleased tracks, beautiful photos, and detailed information on the songs and the wonderful musicians who make them leap out of your speakers.

The track list rundown begins with the pseudo-autobiographical adaptation by Frank Loesser and Victor Schertzinger called “That’s How I Got My Start.” It’s a slow and somewhat mid-tempo ballad that sets the pace for her unique and infectious brand of irony-imbued humor. Producer/arranger and pianist Brian Piper leads a lightly swinging ensemble as Ainsworth sings, “Prove it by my rich old banker, how I made that banker hanker. So let this be a lesson, keep ‘em guessin’. ‘Cause that’s how I got my start.” She really lays on that whole femme fatale/jezebel act pretty thick from the get-go.

“Necessary Evil” was an early ‘50s song by singer Frankie Laine that is fairly obscure. But being a musical archivist and curator is Ainsworth’s passion, as she invests this cool little known noir-ish burner with a sultry and seductive kick. Chris McGuire’s smooth tenor sax sets a vintage nightclub mood.

The redheaded chanteuse is in search of the ideal man on another early ‘50s rarity “That’s the Kind of Guy I Dream Of.” She sings tongue in cheek lyrics, with tales of romantic woe such as, “A handsome hunk o’ fellow with the sharpest clothes, a sunny disposition and a smile that glows. That’s the kind of guy I dream of, you should see the kind that I get.” And then she hits you with the clincher, “Got a guy, says he’s a jockey, took me to see his thoroughbred. You guessed it, of course, he looks just like his horse, I shoud’ve stayed in bed!”

Another lesser known Rodgers and Hammerstein song was tailor made for Ainsworth and bluntly called “The Gentleman is a Dope.” Although rooted from a bygone era, It smacks of modern #MeToo sensibilities, with a hint of sarcasm and sass. The small combo sound, with Piper at the helm gives this a minor urgency.

One of the unreleased tracks on the album is an Irving Berlin tune, popularized by Marilyn Monroe, called “You’d Be Surprised.” It’s significant that Ainsworth decided to include it here because it really displays her innate ability to tell a clear and intriguing story. It references that old phrase about never judging a book by the cover. In the case of a shy guy named Johnny, that would certainly apply. “He’s not so good in a crowd, but when you get him alone, you’d be surprised. He isn’t much at a dance, but when he takes you home, you’d be surprised,” she sings. “He’s got the face of an angel, but there’s the devil in his eye.”

“Love for Sale” is a classic Cole Porter song that has been done up tempo by Mel Tormé and a ton of other people. Ainsworth’s version really stands out as slow, steamy and resonant. The tight combo fronted by Piper’s cool and lithe piano playing really set the scene here.

“Skylark” is a familiar standard that, not only stands out for its beautiful lyrics and stellar vocal delivery, but the singular accompaniment of Chris DeRose-Chiffolo on guitar is mesmerizing. The medley of “Long Ago and Far Away” and “You Stepped Out of a Dream” is a lovely pairing in that they harmonically fit like pieces of a puzzle. Chris McGuire’s tenor sax work is just icing on the cake.

“An Occasional Man” was a minor standard sung in the past by legends like Sarah Vaughn and Julie London. Ainsworth and company give this a silky samba feel, with fun-filled lyrics like “I got an island in the Pacific, and everything about it is terrific. I’ve got the sun to tan me, palms to fan me and…an occasional man.” This vivacious crooner really knows how to paint a picture!

The Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen piece “Out of This World” is rather exotic and a nice slice of post-modern world beat-influenced fare. Pete Brewer’s flute and Steve Barnes’ percussion really make this one sparkle. “Hooray for Love” is another Arlen gem that keeps that up beat and free-spirited take on love and romance in full gear. It’s a bouncy and swinging tune.

Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen’s danceable “Personality,” Ned Washington and Victor Young’s delicate “My Foolish Heart,” Gus Kahn’s hopelessly romantic “Dream a Little Dream,” and bonus tracks “Wasting My Love On You” and the randy “Just Give Me a Man” complete this fabulous and comprehensive CD package.

Just FYI, the CD edition of Top Shelf adds numerous tracks from the three studio albums that had to be left off of the vinyl LP edition due to the limitations of the format. But, whether you purchase the fuller length CD or the vinyl version, you’re in for a real treat. Laura Ainsworth is one of the most talented and entertaining vocalists – of any genre or era – on the music scene today!