Lynda Carter’s new CD, At Last, takes the concept of “pleasant” to as extreme a level as it can support. The tune-stack has a certain charm. All the arrangements make sense. Carter has an appealing voice, appropriate sense of melody and pitch, and a clear sense of what her lyrics mean. The CD is well produced and shows off singer and musicians to the pleasantest degree possible.
Add this CD to the changer you keep in the dining room when hosting dinner parties.
The maddening downside to all this pleasantness is the utterly generic nature of the CD. The moment each song begins, it is clear what the next three minutes will bring in mood and interpretation; and since you know there will be no surprises, there’s really not much reason to keep actively listening. Similarly, after hearing the CD, I don’t feel that I know much about Lynda Carter as a performer except that she can sing on pitch with enough intelligence not to screw up a lyric and has the good sense to surround herself with competent professionals.
Since I was wrestling with my reaction to the CD, I conducted a backstage survey at Mother Courage. I played the bridge of the title song for people and then asked them to identify the singer*. None even came close to guessing Lynda Carter. On the other hand, all found the performance better than they would have expected.
So, what is one looking for in a cabaret recording? Generally, I have to admit, I’d prefer a train wreck of a CD that at least gives me some point-of-view about the artist and hopefully some insights into life based on their experience. Or to be such a fierce interpreter that they make me hear familiar songs in a completely fresh way. (I always envy people who have yet to discover Nancy LaMott for the thrill that they’ll get when they first hear her.) On the other hand, the fact that cabaret performances often eschew certain standards of musicality, pitch, and even studio engineering is the reason many music lovers have issues with the genre.
I have to admit to never having seen Carter in her live concerts. There is always the possibility that those performances give the dimension of personality that the audio alone seems to lack.
*And yes, I was playing it for people old enough to remember her.