In New York, New York, director Martin Scorsese’s ambitiously flawed homage to Manhattan’s postwar music scene, saxman Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro) explains to vocalist Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli) that a “major chord” is when everything in your life works out perfectly. Professionally speaking, singer-songwriter Melissa Stylianou has achieved a major chord. Across three previous albums, all distinctively good, Stylianou was finding her footing, experimenting with different styles and interpretive approaches. Now, with Silent Movie, she settles into a spellbinding groove that advances her to the forefront of contemporary vocalists, rivaling the storytelling élan of Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon.
Working with her regular quartet—pianist Jamie Reynolds, guitarist Pete McCann, bassist Gary Wang and drummer Rodney Green—augmented by cellist Yoed Nir, percussionist James Shipp and multireedist Anat Cohen, Stylianou traverses an intriguingly wide-ranging assortment of covers that extends from Jerome Kern, Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer to James Taylor and Paul Simon. Brazilian singer-songwriter Vanessa da Mata’s “Onde Ir” unfolds with the delicacy of an orchid, while Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone” becomes a stunning study in regret.
Three originals complete the project, including Stylianou’s cautiously romantic lyrics added to Vince Mendoza’s “Hearing Your Voice,” and her heartbreaking narrative fitted to Edgar Meyers’ “First Impressions.” Finally, there is the title track, crafted by Stylianou and her husband, Reynolds, which brilliantly depicts the drama of a disintegrating relationship in cinematic terms. JT