Why Try to Change Me Now?
What’s a first-rate pianist like Brian Trainor doing in a column devoted to vocalists? According to the man himself, he was inspired first by the death of Nina Simone and then the demise of Ray Charles to look at the words and the people who sing them. So Trainor gathered together five top-flight singers, of whom a couple you surely know (Jimmy Scott, Jon Lucien) and others you possibly don’t but should (Kelly Rodrigues, Lois Smith, Jacque Major), to join him on what would, sadly, prove to be his last album. Here’s hoping Trainor got the chance to hear the completed disc before he passed away in July, because the results are stunning. Trainor meshes with these fine artists like silken Givenchy wrapped around Audrey Hepburn, and they respond with equal elegance and élan.
In his notes, Trainor provides the best delineation of Scott yet written, describing him as “delicate beyond measure, heavy as infinity.” And so Scott is on exquisite treatments of the title track, “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” and, teamed with Rodrigues, “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” Elsewhere Rodrigues reminds us that “When She Loved Me” may have come from a cartoon (sung by a dejected doll in Toy Story 2) but is pure Randy Newman poetry, and again honors Newman with a gorgeously delicate “One More Hour.” Lucien takes Anthony Newley’s featherweight “Feelin’ Good” and shifts it into sensual overdrive, then demonstrates how subtly beautiful immense power can be as he eases into Thomas Dorsey’s “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” Smith exercises her skills at evoking both ebony heartbreak and sparkling joy with equally sublime readings of “I Got It Bad” and “I’ve Got the World on a String.” As for Major, with her Sylvia Tyson-meets-Bette Midler vibe, suffice it to say that Newman’s “Guilty” has never been captured with such hurtin’, honky-tonk verve.