Fay Claassen releases eighth album ‘Luck Child’ clear and true
“‘Luck Child’ is the most personal and most emotional release of award-winning Dutch singer Fay Claassen.”
Like a fine wine, Fay Claassen’s vocals go down nice and easy, with a maturity of focus and an underlying purity. On her new album, Luck Child (Challenge Records, March 3, 2017), she showcases a quietly dazzling versatility and a deep, rich showcase of a voice on 13 covers across the soundscape of our cultural imagination.
Equal to the voice are the musicians backing her, pianist Olaf Polziehn establishing a sturdy foundation for her to launch her varied stylistic adventures, while mirroring her matured depth, the rhythm section holding up their end — not too fancy, not too staid.
“Fay” is a successful interpretation of soaring wordless vocals capturing the spirit of a bird in flight, or the first spring’s blossoms loosening their petals gently into the air.
“Luck Child (Sandbox),” her waxy lullaby for “wounded souls,” conjures up the heart-tugging wistfulness of moms of grown children. Her voice strains ever-so-subtly to shift into higher ground, but nothing breaks. She really knows how to curve her tones and textures around these melodic figures without losing her own personality.
Her own personality exudes a natural warmth from the inside out, as empathically elaborated by the free-floating entrance and exodus of her longtime accompanist Polziehn, who massages the keys as if he personally knows and adores the beautiful, lilting figure up front, stretching her voice outward.
From Duke Ellington, Cedar Walton, and Fred Hersch, to Burt Bacharach, Paul McCartney, and Paul Simon, Claassen does a fine job of fleshing out the inherent, lilting, lyrical beauty of these compositions, as well as her own singular voice.
A few tracks received the special touch.
Trumpeter Kenny Wheeler composed “Fay” for the singer. “Kenny wrote an incredible arrangement for that tune using three different voices for the melody, which I overdubbed one by one and all together, it sounds like a choir from heaven what Kenny created there,” Claassen explained in the liner notes.
Claassen’s husband Paul Heller (with lyrics by Robin Meloy Goldsby) gifted her with the romantic, “bending and winding” ballad, “Finding You,” for her birthday — another winner, which suits her own bending and winding, star struck balladeer voice.
The first song off the record was originally a piece of music by guitarist Leni Stern called “Sandbox,” later personalized for this occasion by Irish writer friend Catriona O’Daly, “referring to a very special Irish myth. It’s about the ‘Luck Child,’ which now became the title of the song [liner notes].”
One or two tracks outstay their welcome, though.
“God Bless The Child” falls slightly short. The jazz standard made famous by Billie Holiday is one of the hardest to cover, because it requires intimate experience with extremes of emotion born of untold pain, heartache, and even abject degradation and scorn. To pull it off with any authenticity is a challenge for even the most experienced.
Nevertheless, the award-winning Dutch singer gives each well-worn lyric the respect it deserves, without quite the feel of having gone through similar trials.
Another okay cover is equally hard to convey for a singer who isn’t completely in her element of personal experience and musical strength, Bacharach’s lyrically challenging maze of “A House Is Not A Home.” Again, you can hear her sorting through the navigational hell of this tricky tune, rather than simply embodying it through the top of her head down to the bottom of her toes.
Claassen’s usually lush, vibrant voice dilutes a little trying to get around Ellington’s moody “In A Sentimental Mood.” She carefully, almost too carefully, parses out a few lyrical notes at a time without skipping on a key, or dropping the hold. What she does hold onto cops a mellow Phoebe Snow vibe, touched with the low and slow soulful smoothness of Mariah Carey when she really gets down.
Luck Child is Claassen’s eighth solo album.