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But One Day

Ute Lemper But One Day

Release Date: 03.11.03
Record label: Decca / Universal
Genre(s): Classical, Jazz

80 Music-Critic Score
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Savage Class
by: matt cibula


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.


Her 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.)


And 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. 27-Mat-2003 12:31 PM