Listen Up: Wednesday, December 15, 2004
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A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Marilyn Scott

Nightcap (Prana Records)

By Jimmy Fowler

Two musical styles duke it out on Nightcap, singer Marilyn Scott’s “Great American Songbook” debut: Jazz-purist attention to tight time-signature swerves in one corner, while prolific producer George Duke’s excessively creamy sonics occupy the other. Scott is a journeywoman session singer and songwriter from the Los Angeles studio scene who scored her first hit back in 1979, an improbable disco version of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” Much of her time in the ’80s was spent recording tunes for movie soundtracks and doing backup vocals for a lot of Tower of Power projects. Scott carved a continuous recorded groove on adult contemporary radio throughout the ’90s, warbling self-penned synth-ballads whose names — “It’s Only a Heart,” “The Restless Own the Night” — suggest she was cribbing heavily from the Diane Warren textbook of romantic clichés. Nightcap appears to be Scott’s bid to break out of that hermetically sealed if lucrative universe, and her take on some of the lesser-known jazz standards suggests she’s probably a knockout live performer.

Scott chooses the road less taken in what is surely classified as a “smooth jazz” project — her soft voice is astringent rather than lush, her tone hard-bitten and tossed-off rather than studied, and if pushed to do so by producer Duke’s quartet, which crafts diverse soundscapes for each tune, she’ll forsake the melody to lean against and bounce off the scuttling percussion. “I Wished on a Moon,” with lyrics by Dorothy Parker, has not been covered nearly enough, and Scott locates the Parkeresque mood of ironic enchantment. Artie Butler’s “Here’s to Life” is one of those great carpe diem piano bar tunes that works because of its well-worn sentiments (“I have learned that all you give / Is all you get / So give it all you’ve got”), not despite them. Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin’s blue-toned “If It’s The Last Thing I Do” finds Scott’s vibe turning a little warmer, thanks to some excellent moody brass noodlings, but the undercurrent of romantic desperation still threatens to hit high tide. Despite all its pleasures, Nightcap feels stranded between maestro George Duke’s adult-contemporary swamp and Scott’s more quietly jagged approach. Releasing this collection as a live recording would’ve gone a lot further in legitimizing her tart, tasty vocal gifts.



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