Thursday, December 05, 2019

Music for Commuting: Fred Farell - Distant Song

Fred Farell: Distant Song (Whaling City Sound)
Farell (vocals/lyrics) Richie Beirach (p/comp) David Liebman (ss/ts/comp) June 2015

David Liebman; Richie Beirach

I ran into Distant Song by chance while browsing Liebman’s discography online. I’ve been enjoying listening to Liebman lately, and his pairing with Beirach is of particular interest - add in a vocalist singing their pieces and it was bit of a no-brainer for me to grab it.

There's a pretty good story behind the recording. Farell comes in contact with Beirach in the early 1970s and begins studying with him. He starts singing the compositions of Liebman and Beirach, has religious awakening, drops out of music, 40 years later he reconnects with Liebman and Beirach to record an album of those songs. And the results are really solid.
As I don't have much from earlier in the careers of Lieb or Beirach,  I’m not familiar with the pieces (although I just heard “Places” on the first Open Sky album), so I need to get around to sourcing some of the instrumental versions. It will be interesting to see how knowing these vocal versions first affects my take on the originals.

Distant Song is an album of ballads. The 10 pieces (five each from Lieb and Beirach) are relatively brief which keeps things moving along, but I wouldn’t have mind something a little more up tempo for variety (a minor complaint). The two instrumental pieces - "Forgotten Fantasies" and "Zal" - break things up a bit.
 It must be a challenge for the composers to hear their work with some other meaning attached to it. So often you end up with these corny lyrics just so a vocalist has something to sing (just sing the melody!). But in this case, Farrel does a great job capturing the mood of Beirach's and Liebman's pieces.


“Countrysides and Towns go by,
Like passing dreams,
Reality to me becomes the Pain of Leaving You.”

Lonnie’s Song

“But, I see Your Loss was meant to help

Us to grow and show The Way.”

With one exception, Farell 
doesn't improvise, he sings the straight melody with feeling, a nice tone and phrasing

. I don't mind that at all, and in many ways prefer it than listening to a singer that feels compelled to scat in order to be a jazz singer. Beirach takes on the more dominant role (mostly due to accompanying and soloing throughout ), while Lieb contributes short solos with nice melodic touches, along with the odd obbligato or two. Sometimes I get a little bugged with the way Lieb was recorded (is he in a booth?... you can almost hear the separation) and then other times it doesn't bother me at all! So Distant Song turned out to be a really nice surprise. Maybe not a disc with widespread appeal, definitely one for fans of Liebman/Beirach and those interested in lyrics. But he's a nice singer so perhaps your mainstream jazz vocalist fan would enjoy it too. 

I would like to delve a bit deeper into the Liebman/Beirach duo recordings.... add it to the list.

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