Every week between August 31, 1976 and March 19, 1985, Linda Lavin could be seen on CBS in the title role of the sitcom Alice. Lavin also sang the show’s memorable theme song, composed by David Shire with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and occasionally performed in character as Alice Hyatt. But Lavin’s inherent musicality was no surprise to those who followed her illustrious career on and off Broadway where she appeared in musicals including A Family Affair, It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman, and The Mad Show. Now, after recent appearances on stage, television, and film, Lavin has returned to the recording studio for a delicious new release.
Love Notes, on Club 44 Records, features intimate arrangements of an eclectic array of songs by composers ranging from Cole Porter and George Gershwin to Steely Dan and The Eagles – all rendered in Lavin’s smoky style. Producer Billy Stritch also fronts a six-person band on piano, and Stritch has split arrangement duties with violinist/mandolinist Aaron Weinstein. Wayne Haun has co-produced. Tasteful orchestrations subtly adorn a number of the tracks, as well.
Lavin’s voice is filled with character. She deftly blends Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got My Eyes on You” with “You Do Something to Me” in a sweet mix with just the right amount of insouciance; Porter’s words and music recur on a medley of two of his lesser-known works, the brassy “Ace in the Hole” and “Rap Tap on Wood,” featuring Billy Stritch on duet vocals. Her affinity for Duke Ellington is evinced on his playful 1941 tune “Just Squeeze Me (But Don’t Tease Me”), and the light, happy atmosphere continues with the Duke’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” as combined with the Gershwins’ perennial “I Got Rhythm.”
The singer’s delight is palpable on such breezy tunes as Vernon Duke and John LaTouche’s “Not a Care in the World” (in a medley with the Gershwins’ “Shall We Dance”) and Rodgers and Hart’s wicked swinger “I Wish I Were in Love Again.” Lavin is understated on “Chega de Saudade,” the Antonio Carlos Jobim/Vinicius de Moraes song often considered to be the first recorded example of bossa nova. Billy Stritch vocalizes with Lavin on the upbeat yet sensual number; no stranger to bossa nova, he recorded an entire album of the genre with 1997’s Waters of March.
Among the most intriguing selections is the pairing of The Eagles’ hit “I Can’t Tell You Why” with Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s “I Walk a Little Faster,” pivoting on the former’s lyric “Every time I try to walk away/Something makes me turn around and stay…” Stritch’s slow, spare arrangement reinvents the Eagles tune as a complementary narrative to lyricist Leigh’s declaration that “even though I meet ’round each and every corner with nothing but disaster/I set my chin a little higher, I hope a little longer/Build a little stronger castle in the air/And thinking you’ll be there, I walk a little faster.” Equally terrific (and terrifically surprising) is the rendition of Steely Dan’s “Black Cow.” While Stritch’s arrangement largely adheres to the original in tempo and feel, Lavin’s intuition as an actor brings the lyrics and story to the forefront. “Black Cow” isn’t jazz, it’s not pop, it’s not rock, it’s not musical theatre, but it’s a potent combination of all of those styles.
Of a more recent vintage is Wayne Haun and Joel Lindsey’s haunting ballad “Stars Will Fall.” It’s of a piece with Michel Legrand, Jacques Demy, and the Bergmans’ tender yet imploring “You Must Believe in Spring” from the 1967 film The Young Girls of Rochefort. While Lavin can still belt with the best of them, she’s equally comfortable with the album’s quieter moments.
These Love Notes add up to an evening out from a consummate entertainer and an escapist tonic for these strange times in which we’re living. Alice Hyatt was proudly a “New Girl in Town.” Linda Lavin is just as proudly a seasoned veteran with plenty to offer. Fans of classic pop, cabaret, musical theatre, and jazz won’t want to miss this appealing set.