Karen Mason’s new CD, Right Here, Right Now is easily the best cabaret CD I’ve heard in 2008, if not farther back.* Mason is an incredibly talented performer with an amazing instrument and a large “toolbox” of technique that support her artistic endeavors.
The CD is a mixture of songs she has been performing for a while and never recorded as well as new material. It features two terrific songs written by her very talented husband Paul Rolnick, Like the Heavens Hold the Stars and the title song. Rolnick is also one of the top recording engineers in New York, and the sound quality on the CD, especially given Mason’s rangy voice and tendency toward extreme dynamic effects, shows another side of his talents.
Highlights of this CD include a passionate medley of Help and Being Alive; a reading of Hurry! It’s Lovely Here totally infused with joy; and a rousing Get Happy, including the rarely-heard intro. When reading the track list, I was frankly puzzled by the selection of Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, but this trip veering into “lounge” is utterly charming and committed.
One rarely hears a CD with this consistent level of quality; there are no weak links in the song selections. And much of this is due to the high level of talent in “team Mason” — amazing concepts by Barry Kleinbort supported by arrangements and piano work by the extraordinary Christopher Denny. His solo piano on “As If We Never Said Goodby” makes one wonder why Lord Lloyd Webber felt the need for a whole orchestra for his show.
And speaking of Sunset Blvd, that track is a somewhat interesting historic document. Mason was the principal standby for Norma Desmond for most of the Broadway run of Sunset Blvd. And she has been the only major Broadway, London, tour, German, or Australian Norma not to record some portion of the role. (Danielle Ziegler, Helen Schneider’s replacement in Frankfurt has her own CD of Sunset highlights for heaven’s sake!) So this is a must-have recording for Andrew Lloyd Webber completists. By the way, (my partner) Ron got choked up when he first heard this version.
One of the things I like most most about Team Mason’s work is the thought they put in her arrangements. Of course, they totally fit Mason and balance her artistic goals with her specific talents. However while nothing is totally outrageous, they are distinct and often take an original approach to the material. It would be very clear if another performer was trying to sing the Mason version of a song, the way it is very obvious when an accompanist became Wally Harper-esque for any singer but Barbara Cook. And even Cook’s arrangements, while lovely, have certainly been amazingly bland post-Harper — if you disagree, just compare their versions of Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here!**
Here’s the track list:
1. All That Jazz
2. Secret Love
3. Like The Heavens Hold The Stars
4. Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend
5. Help/Being Alive
6. Hurry! It’s Lovely Here
7. Make Someone Happy
8. Right Here, Right Now
9. Get Happy
10. As If We Never Said Goodbye
11. Everything Old Is New Again
12. Look For The Silver Lining
* Ron’s amazing CD, Haunted Heart doesn’t count.
** OK, one criticism of the CD — the case lists Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here! as “Hurry! It’s Lovely Here”