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Izzy Chait: Straight From the Heart

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If you want to disprove F. Scott Fitzgerald’s adage that there are no second acts in American lives, look no further than Izzy Chait. Though his love for music dates to his youth and he sang with the Marine Corps while stationed in Vietnam in the mid-’60s, his equally ardent passion for Asian antiquities led him instead to a successful career as an art historian and Beverly Hills gallery owner. Then, around the turn of the century, as Chait was rounding his mid-50s, he shifted back to music with a vengeance, casting his net wide: He covered standards, Christmas tunes, contemporary hits and classic blues, recorded live and even issued an album of remixes. The flurry now continues with two markedly different releases.

With a style that suggests an oddly effective pairing of Dr. John and Perry Como, there’s a bit of the hambone about Chait: a gutsy, gravelly baritone who would have been labeled a showman back in the day, with his endearing mix of chutzpah and charm. Straight From the Heart, the more straight-ahead of the two, finds him navigating a brace of standards and a couple of polished originals, backed by a muscular sextet featuring guitarist Phil Upchurch and keyboardist Howard McCrary. Among the album’s rather remarkable guests are one-time Mahavishnu Orchestra member Gayle Moran Corea, swingin’ alongside Chait on “All the Way” and a lively “Gershwin Medley,” and Edgar Winter, blowing sax on a peppery “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and joining Corea on a breezy blending of “Everyday I Have the Blues,” “Stormy Monday Blues” and “Seventh Son.”

Winds of Change features Chait in variable settings, with 29 musicians, including guitarist Don Peake and other former members of Ray Charles’ band, assembled in configurations that range from quintet to tentet, some with horns, others with strings. This bizarrely fascinating, 13-track miscellany extends from a tender take on Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” to a rumbling, down ‘n’ dirty “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” Along the way, Chait covers bubblegum pop (the Brenda Lee hit “Dum Dum”), vintage R&B (Otis Redding’s “Fa Fa Fa”), Hank Williams, Kurt Weill, Elton John, Dylan and even a chest-swelling “America the Beautiful.”

Originally Published