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December 2009

John Proulx
Baker's Dozen
MaxJazz

That singer-pianist John Proulx bears a striking vocal similarity to the young Chet Baker was made undeniably apparent three years ago with the release of Proulx’s debut, Moon and Sand. Rather than deny or mask the resemblance, Proulx embraces it on this belated follow-up, paying tribute with a dozen standards from Baker’s mid-’50s repertoire plus one new, supposedly honorific composition (the upbeat “Before You Know It,” which suggests little knowledge of the moody, demonized Baker). But likeness doesn’t necessarily translate to like-mindedness. Proulx sings without shadows.

Exploring sentiments gray or sunny, he exudes a fundamental sincerity, conveying precisely what the lyric intends. Baker was all about shadows. Seemingly cool detachment belied intense introspection as he bent the words to his will, carving undercurrents that could both enhance and obscure the song’s emotional intent. Consider the two songs Baker is most strongly associated with: Where Proulx’s “Let’s Get Lost” travels a breezy path of romantic escapism, Baker’s suggests a worldlier, more sexually charged motive; and while Proulx’s “My Funny Valentine” unfolds like the tender billet-doux it is, Baker’s is laced with haunted desperation that borders on sinister (its murky creepiness used to chilling effect by director Anthony Minghella in The Talented Mr. Ripley).

Which isn’t to suggest that Proulx’s interpretations are in any way lacking. Indeed, his readings—particularly a calypso-esque “Look for the Silver Lining” and an “I Remember You” that rides a gentle bossa wave—are consistently clever and fresh. But they emulate Baker in name only.

Originally published in December 2009
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