In response to today’s Impromptus, there’s mail concerning Obama’s peevishness, the Syrian situation, the British royal family, Communism, and the name of our magazine. (It’s “National Review,” but you can’t stop people from saying “The National Review,” as we’ve learned over the decades. Doesn’t matter how hard we try.) But do you know what most people want to talk about? James Taylor and Alison Krauss. (Those singers appeared together here in New York last week, and I have a little note on them.)
People can’t get enough of James Taylor, can’t get enough. And they’re perfectly right. A sample of mail: “I know he’s a crazy lefty [Is he? Darn], but I love the guy [me too. Politics always wants to spoil everything]. Named my son James, on account of ‘Sweet Baby James’!”
People can’t get enough of Alison Krauss, either — and, again, they’re perfectly right. One reader wanted to walk down Memory Lane: “In 1987, when she was 16 years old, I saw her perform at The Ark in Ann Arbor. She charmed the audience by being exactly what she was: a gawky, shy Illinois kid in a store-bought dress.”
Another reader says, “Jay, could you tell us what you think of her singing? I think she’s pure and effortless.” Oh, no question. Listen, I’m going to write about these performers, musically, in another piece, forthcoming. But I’ll say three quick things about Miz Krauss right here:
1) She has an inborn sense of pitch, an unthinking intonation. (I mean “unthinking” in a very positive sense.) I’ll give you two other pop singers who’ve had this: Kay Starr and Dolly Parton. They were always in the center of the center of the note. Hurricanes couldn’t move them off. This is quite rare, even in the classical domain.
(Please don’t have a cow that I’ve said “pop,” rather than something more specific, or more accurate. I just mean non-classical.)
2) When she goes high and loud, she does what I call the “Annie shout.” I named it after those little girls in red wigs who shout “Tomorrow.” I don’t know why they do this; someone must teach them; it’s unnatural, unmusical, and grotesque. Anyway, when Alison goes high and loud — does the Annie shout — her voice loses its color and its other true characteristics. A pity, and completely unnecessary.
3) She needs amplification like I need another hot-fudge sundae. But the whole world is now amplified, and over-amplified. It’s a sad, frustrating encrustation on our culture.
Which brings me to a final sample of reader mail. At the end of the concert in which Taylor and Krauss appeared, Tony Bennett came out, for a duet with Taylor (“Put on a Happy Face”). I say in my column, “How old is he, 109? Doesn’t matter: Handsome as hell, and smoove.”
A reader says, “About 15 years ago, I heard Tony Bennett sing without a microphone in the huge and beautiful Fox Theatre [Detroit]. He said that Al Jolson had done so on this very stage and he wanted to try it. You could hear every word, and what joyous relief to hear something not amplified! It sounded so pure and all-music, so to speak.”
That letter, by the way, is from my mother. Do you read your mother’s mail?