REVIEW: Marin Mazzie: Make Your Own Kind of Music – Live at 54 Below

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marinmazzieFor years, when you polled Broadway fans for their choices of singers they wished would record a solo album, Marin Mazzie‘s name would always top that list. Thanks to the good people at Broadway Records, the wait is over, and once you hear Make Your Own Kind of Music, recorded live at 54 Below, I’m sure you’ll agree it was worth the wait.

The album, recorded in live in February, 2015, takes us on a musical journey through Marin’s childhood, starting with a few numbers she recalls from her parents’ record collection (“Come On-A My House,” sexier than Rosemary Clooney ever imagined it, “That’s All,” and a Sammy Davis, Jr.-inspired “Begin the Beguine,” the set’s only show tune). From there, it’s all ’70s, from the Partridge Family to Barry Manilow, and Mazzie manages to avoid camp to give us knock-out renditions of each and every song.

Her sincere love for these songs pays off, elevating the material high above our fuzzy AM-radio memories. Yes, she even rescues “Midnight at the Oasis” from the kitschy punchline it’s been for decades, with help from a subdued arrangement by Dan Lipton. The pairing of her voice and the music of the 1970s Adult Contemporary charts turns out to be such a perfect pairing, this album will make you want to stop what you’re doing and write a Carly Simon jukebox musical for Ms. Mazzie. Just wait until you hear her phenomenal “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be.”

The album preserves just enough of the show’s patter for us to understand Mazzie’s fondness for these songs (and for the hairbrush she sang into and otherwise played with in her teenage years) without ever overwhelming the music. Music director Joseph Thalken keeps the band in the sweet spot between pop and cabaret, helping the songs feel fresh and theatrical without ever straying too far from the versions Mazzie fell in love with way back when. Thalken also provided about half the arrangements, along with Larry Lelli (who also plays drums on the album), Pete Donovan (the album’s bassist), Ted Firth, and Lipton. Thalken, Lelli, Donovan, and guitarist Nate Brown also prove to be capable backup singers when called upon.

This album is clearly a labor of love, and it shines through in every aspect, from the hand-lettered logo by Olivia Cook gracing the photo-rich package design by Robbie Rozelle (with gorgeous performance photos by Nathan Johnson) to the crystal-clear production and mixing by Aaron Ankrum. Much has been written about what a gift 54 Below has been to the New York cabaret community, but not enough has been said about how grateful we should all be for the Live at 54 Below series from Broadway Records. In an era when the economics of putting out albums of any type make the music business a perilous proposition, their commitment to capturing so many of this venue’s best shows deserves its own standing ovation.

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