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Roy Nathanson: Fire at Keaton’s Bar and Grill

Pop icons Deborah Harry and Elvis Costello, jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut and bluesman Corey Harris are just a few of the musical luminaries helping avant garde songwriter/sax player Roy Nathanson tell the sad-sack story of the characters who inhabit the fictitious Keaton’s Bar & Grill. The album plays like a Raymond Carver tale (albeit one that has you toe-tapping), complete with Costello as “Singleton” the narrator, Harry as “Cups” the bartender and the Psychedelic Furs’ Richard Butler as possible arsonist “Richard Blair.” Co-founder of New York’s anything-goes Jazz Passengers, Nathanson blends cool jazz, quirky tango and a handful of swing-time pop ballads to pace the narrative. On “Bar Stool Paradise,” “Cookie” (Nancy King) and Cups’ current boyfriend, played by Kenny Washington, flirt wildly with breakneck scatted come-ons-all while the cuckolded Cups has her back turned. Darius de Haas and David Driver, original stars of Broadway’s blockbuster Rent, duet on what Nathanson calls “a love song between two particle physicists.” And on the album’s wildest tune-a weird mix of Dixieland and funk-shot-slinger Harry sing-speaks about the joys and hardships of the only life she knows.

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