Isabel Rose: From Tin Pan Alley to Power Rock

Christopher Loudon on the multi-faceted writer, actress and singer

As overachievers go, Isabel Rose makes Oprah look like a slacker. She is a published author, equally comfortable in the realms of fiction and non-fiction, an award-winning actress who has conquered stage and screens (big and small), a screenwriter whose 2003 hit film Anything But Love was deemed a “charmer” by the Los Angeles Times, and a playwright and composer who adapted her first novel, The J.A.P. Chronicles, into an off-Broadway musical that enjoyed an extended run in early 2006. If that weren’t enough, she also graduated summa cum laude from Yale.

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Isabel Rose, on set of Aquarius video
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Isabel Rose's Swingin' From the Hip

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Now the multi-hyphenated Rose adds vocalist to her list of accomplishments. The cover of her debut album, Swingin’ From the Hip, cheekily recalls Ann-Margret back in her hip-twitching Bye Bye Birdie days. She also owes a stylistic debt to the young Ms. Olsson, but Rose’s purring sexiness is a jigger or two more mature, suggesting shades of Mary Ford and placing her squarely at the crossroads of jazz and cabaret (with a dash of Broadway power and pizzazz for good measure).

Understandably for someone of Rose’s myriad interests, her playlist is remarkably wide-ranging, extending from early Gershwin through Tin Pan Alley, postwar Broadway and ’60s pop to post-disco power rock. She rides in on Esquivel-worthy waves, lifting “Aquarius” from its earthy Hair roots and sending it into a Starlight Express whirl. She then downshifts into a shimmering “Oh, What A Beautiful Morning” that ushers in a swirling, sun-dappled “It’s A Lovely Day Today.” Her Broadway invasion continues with Rogers and Hammerstein’s “I Enjoy Being A Girl,” performing it straight (well, as straight as that indelibly campy tune can be performed) for the first 90 seconds or so, then gradually turning up the heat until it reaches the fevered pitch of an erotic striptease. On “Temptation,” Rose harkens back to the golden days of Patti Page (and Mary Ford) when triple-tracked vocals were all the rage, creating sizzling, country-tinged harmonies that seem equal parts McGuire Sisters and Bangles.

Next, another sharp left turn as Rose transforms, with surprising success, Pat Benatar’s take-no-prisoners anthem “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” into a sultry ballad. The calliope lilt of her “Haven’t Me Met” strongly hints at Kenny Rankin’s delightfully lithe version. “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,” less dramatically impassioned that the Mel Carter original, is frothily reinvented as a girl group finger-snapper, and Dusty Springfield’s greased-lightening “I Only Want to Be With You” is effectively slowed to a hymn-like pace.

Rose’s “Boy Wanted” can’t compare to Ella’s deliciously sweet, cashmere-cuddly treatment, crafted by Nelson Riddle for her incomparable, 1959 The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book, but her reading is engagingly effervescent. Ditto her buoyant “On the Street Where You Live.” She goes stiletto-to-stiletto with Ann-Margret on the bizarre, post-apocalyptic fantasy “Thirteen Men,” a long-ago staple of the Swedish sex kitten’s Vegas shows.

Rose’s jazz chops are most evident throughout a high-spirited, loosen-all-the-stays “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” but are near-equally strong on the playfully sensuous “The Best Is Yet to Come” that closes the album.

With its mishmash of styles, eras and genres, Swingin’ From the Hip does cast Rose as a rather chameleon-esque musical figure. Best to think of it as vibrant sampler, filled with delectably bite-sized jazz, pop, Broadway and cabaret nuggets.

If you’d like to share your comments about Isabel Rose or have suggestions for future installments of Hearing Voices, please direct your email to jtvocaljazz@gmail.com.

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