But One Day
label: Decca / Universal
our score: 4.0 out of 5.0
No one in the world interprets the work
of Kurt Weill better than jazz/cabaret/artsong singer Ute Lemper.
She's done it before, and here she does it again; two glorious
songs that can be classified together under the banner of "savage
class." The first of these songs, "September Song,"
opens this disc, and Lemper tears it up lovely. Her voice was
built for Weill's serpentine melody, and she whispers and croons
and snarls Maxwell Anderson's words so wonderfully that you forget
that this song has been always sung by middle-aged men to younger
women. The second Weill piece, "Speak Low," is torch
music of the highest order, with clever but not-too-clever words
by Ogden Nash: "Time is so old and love so brief / Love is
pure gold and time a thief".
And, Weill aside, no art singer in the
world picks braver material. Having already essayed work by Tom
Waits and Nick Cave on previous discs, Lemper here takes on some
worldwide heavyweights. She sings Bertolt Brecht's savage indictment
of Nazi anti-Semitism, "Ballad of Marie Sanders, the Jew's
Whore" (music this time by Hans Eisler rather than Weill),
like she is going through the same ordeal as her subject: "She
walks / Through the city in her slip / With a board around her
neck, her head shaven / The crowd jeering, her eyes cold."
Coupled with the klezmer death march orchestration, it's chilling
and stirring and everything music is supposed to be.
passionate versions of Jacques Brel's "Ne Me Quitte Pas"
and "Amsterdam" are untouchable; her take on the 1920s
cabaret song "Living Without You" is lush and romantic
thanks to the orchestration of Robert Ziegler's Matrix Ensemble;
her two wild tango trips to the music of Astor Piazzolla are sexier
than anything she's ever done before, and most of the stuff on
the charts, and most of what you've ever heard before. (The end
of "Buenos Aires," with its "And I shall die at
the count of six / At the count of six / At the COUNT OF SIX!"
is especially cool.)
I want to give Lemper lots of props for writing more songs here
than she ever has before. It's rare that a cabaret-style art singer
even wants to try songwriting, much less pour her heart and soul
into them; these are soul-baring life-defining songs Lemper's
written here. Sadly, they're nowhere near as strong as the other
stuff written by "real" songwriters, which weighs But
One Day down a bit. "I Surrender" is an attempt
at modern Annie Lennox adult-contemporary art-soul, but lyrics
like "I have to smack the mask right off your face / And
take you to the dark side of the moon" just serve to further
confuse a song with no basic point. "Little Face," a
song for her kids, fares better, because it's simpler and because
the arrangement is so freakin' perfect; but the title track is
just kinda eh, and the over-ambitious "Lena" could have
been left off easily.
So that's the story, people, and there's
not much more to tell. If this had been all covers, it might have
been the most perfect vocal record issued in the last 20 years.
As it is, it's a braver record that isn't quite perfect, but is
certainly worth your time and your love.
liked But One Day...
1. September Song
2. I Surrender
3. Speak Low
5. Ne Me Quitte Pas
6. But One Day
7. Buenos Aires
8. Living With You
10. Little Face
12. Ballad Of Marie Sanders
13. On Brecht - Epilogue