Songs From Other Places by Stacey Kent (2021)
One thing leads to another and suddenly you find yourself travelling to England to study at the school your favorite author went to. My love of said author also introduced me to the incomparable Stacey Kent and the wonderful world of Jazz. I remember sitting in my bedroom and my mom yelling at me to turn on the radio because—oh let’s reveal the mystery man—Kazuo Ishiguro had written the lyrics to the song about to come on. Well, “Postcard Lovers” made me want to go out and buy a bundle of postcards—though I hardly had any lovers to send them to. Mrs. Kent’s smooth, gliding voice took me away to European cafés in the rain and to a sorrow I’d never experienced before. And ever since, I’ve been hooked.
After this hard year sojourned indoors, the idea of other places now glimmers like a just-tossed coin in a fountain. Stacey Kent brings the outside world to our homes and hearts. Though her by now staple sound of a blended-in bossa nova beat is not so present to take us away with swaying saxophone and hips, Songs From Other Places continues to transport us. The tracks included are simple duets between Kent and pianist Art Hirahara—and has an intimate sound more in the vein of the singer’s 2015 album, Tenderly. In that simplicity, however, there is a warmth and breadth of emotion as complex as any great novelist’s protagonist. Hirahara is masterful in allowing Kent’s voice space to soar, and he, himself, is agile over the ivories—giving so much energy and soul to his runs and his quiet touch.
What appealed to me most was “Tango is Macao.” It is fun and a bit more animated, spicing up the soft and delicate duo’s established mood. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a swaying sound! It seems to me that you don’t need a full orchestra to be filled with emotion and images. Sometimes the simple things, like a voice and a piano, is enough to inspire a smile.
A later track, “My Ship” takes me back to older Kent songs. Her voice sails on each line, each pause, each lovely piano note. Occasionally, there’s a concern that when a singer gets older—and I’m definitely not saying Mrs. Kent is in any way old—that their vocals will change. That the tone will get deeper or those high notes begin to become a bit out of reach. But I am reassured (even as she sings, “and I’m getting older too.”). Mellifluous, the lyrics soar on delicate vocal cords, always controlled, never forced or strained.
So, I’ve been listening to Stacey Kent for about ten years now, and I’ve been taken to so many wonderful places. Her arrangements of songs like “Blackbird” and “Landslide” are especially impressive because they simultaneously remind us of the original while giving us something new to remember. And that’s what we need. Places that are not stale but bubbling with interpretations, with different memories and histories that can be shared. Songs From Other Places is an album that reminds us of the past destinations that now have a chance to gleam in a new, reimagined light.