如果从主流市场来衡量René Marie，这位四十岁以后才发行个人第一张专辑的女歌手是没有任何走红条件的。但唱功深厚的René Marie毕竟是在异於市场常规的爵士圈里发展，多亏忠实的歌迷与拥戴她的厂牌老闆，René Marie去年不但换了唱片公司发片，还一口气发行了两张专辑，一张就是本篇介绍的Voice of My Beautiful Country，另一张Black Lace Freudian Slip则匯集了René Marie本人的创作。
René Marie虽然大器晚成，但她的歌喉却丝毫不受年龄影响。反而因为人生际遇的千锤百鍊，让她的作品耐久醇香。笔者心目中的铭新绝品之一是René Marie的代表作Live at Jazz Standard（Maxjazz, 2003），其中最精彩的作品是「Bolero/Suzzane」组曲，René Marie将拉威尔的「波丽露」与加拿大民谣歌手/作家Leonard Cohen的名曲「Suzzane」合为一曲，加上自身特有的蓝调詮释，真是好听极了！这也是笔者听过最好的「Suzzane」翻唱版本。
据说René Marie录制Voice of My Beautiful Country的灵感始於欧巴马竞选民主党总统候选人提名时，在美国中西部赢得第一场初选。在无人看好的情形下，欧巴马一路过关斩将，奇蹟式地选上了美国总统。这啟发了同为黑人的René Marie，她希望可以从爵士乐的角度来述说「祖国之声」，当然，这里必定要加入黑人歌曲的元素。
整张专辑从钢琴老将Dave Brubeck的作品「Strange Meadow Lark」揭开序幕：首先出场的是贝斯手Rodney Jordan，带出René Marie的歌唱，鼓（Quentin Baxter）与钢琴（Kevin Bales）的伴奏跟随於后，是一首洋溢著摇摆韵律的愉快曲子。接下来的「O Shenandoah」是一首美国传统民谣，歌词很简单，讲一个布贩在中西部爱上了印地安酋长的女儿，希望能带她跨越密苏里河到西部去发展。René Marie以演唱黑人灵歌的方式来詮释这首民谣，搭配钢琴手Kevin Bales动人的即兴伴奏，九分多鐘的演出带出音乐的感性与深度，是本张专辑的必听曲。
接下来专辑进入六首以「想像」为主题的作品：感伤的老歌「Imagination」可视为雋永的爵士小品，「Just My Imagination」则是灵魂团体「Temptations」的名作，鼓与贝斯联合打造出放客节拍，搭配René Marie轻鬆俏皮的演唱，还有Kevin Bales精彩的钢琴伴奏，将聆听情绪渐渐推向高潮。然而，René Marie想像中的「祖国之声」不只如此，第八轨「Angellitos Negros」原来是知名的非洲-古巴「颂」（son）乐，René Marie藉由演唱这首西班牙文歌词的曲子，来向作为民族熔炉的祖国致敬。
专辑的后半段是与本张专辑同名的组曲，由René Marie演唱「America The Beautiful」揭开序幕。由於组曲的结构很宽鬆，伴奏编制也不大，所以在这首曲子里她大量採用了拟声唱技（scatting），如此就能带出接下来的「Drum Battle」，也就是鼓手Quentin Baxter的个人秀，以及钢琴手Kevin Bales的蓝调独奏「Piano Blues」。第十二轨的「My Country ‘Tis of Thee」是组曲的后段高潮起点，由René Marie演绎这首带有蓝调味道的曲子，她的演唱生猛有力，接续其后的是美国国歌「星条旗歌」。René Marie擅长自由发挥，可以将貌似陈腐的元素转换成新鲜的创意表现，所以这首「星条旗歌」的版本一点八股味也无，最后整张专辑以激昂的「American The Beautiful-Reprise」作为结束。
无论是制作概念、即兴演奏与演唱品质，Voice of My Beautiful Country都是去年发行最好的爵士女声专辑。虽然无法获得大厂牌的青睞，但René Marie无庸置疑地是美国最优秀的爵士女歌手之一，而她在Voice of My Beautiful Country的表现杰出，为她伴奏的钢琴三重奏班底功夫亦是扎实，很值得介绍给本地乐迷。
René Marie (born René Marie Stevens on November 7, 1955 in Warrenton, Virginia) is a songwriter and jazz vocalist. She began her professional music career at age 42. In 1999, she performed at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C. and signed a contract with the St. Louis-based MAXJAZZ label. She released four albums on the label, the second of which (Vertigo) was awarded a coronet ranking by The Penguin Guide to Jazz, a distinction given to less than 85 other recordings in jazz history. In her work, the singer often combines contrasting songs ("Dixie" and the anti-lynching "Strange Fruit" on Vertigo) or combines other works (Ravel's Boléro and Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" on Live at Jazz Standard.)
Audio CD (March 8, 2011)
Original Release Date: 2011
Number of Discs: 1
Label: Motema Music
Review by Jeff Tamarkin [-]
The track list on René Marie's latest release reads like an iPod in random shuffle mode gone haywire: a Temptations classic is followed by a Jefferson Airplane classic, which is followed by Dobie Gray's hit "Drift Away." There's Dave Brubeck's "Strange Meadow Lark" and the American folk standards "John Henry" and "O Shenandoah," and a sensuous Latin ballad, "Angelitos Negros." The rest of the program makes for no less incongruous a list, but René Marie's gift is that she wraps each song around her dynamic, smoky, malleable, experienced voice until it feels as if she's written it. (Her next album will consist solely of her own compositions.) Marie is a latecomer to performing; now in her fifties, she's only been recording for about 15 years. Perhaps because she took so long to get started, she's had time to develop a personalized style without falling prey to outside influences. Fronting a tight, supple jazz combo, Marie is down to earth, full of surprises, and clever in her approach to a song. The Airplane's "White Rabbit" is rendered in a simultaneously dreamy and intense fashion: Marie, after building up to her first crescendo, lays back, turns things over to the pianist, waits it out till it's become frenzied, and only then returns to drive it home. A medley of Jimmy Van Heusen's "Imagination" and the Temps' "Just My Imagination" makes more sense in Marie's hands than on paper: the first is a whispery, breathy voice and sullen piano; a seamless segue and then the second song, which is soulful, free, tough, and fun. The eclecticism isn't for its own sake, though, Marie gives no impression that she's jumping all over the place to be hip. So when she closes it out with what she dubs "Voice of My Beautiful Country Suite," a six-part medley that runs the gamut from "America the Beautiful" and "My Country 'Tis of Thee" to "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" and the "Star Spangled Banner" -- with drum and bluesy piano solos tossed in -- it all still makes perfect sense.
By Eddie Bean
Format:Audio CD|Amazon Verified Purchase
It's all here. Great songs, original readings, unbelievably gorgeous/bluesy/soulful/funky singing and an idea both big and subtle to tie it all together. I hear all of these songs as a meditation on the complex feelings a person can have for this great but seriously flawed country. The "Voice of My Beautiful Country Suite" is the slightly more direct part, but I think the first half of the recording is at least as interesting as an expression and exploration of the American experiment and not just a collection of terrific American songs.
"White Rabbit" isn't just a snapshot of the druggie sixties, it's an analog for a maddening and conflicting political system. "Just My Imagination" isn't just the hippest jazzy take on a timeless Motown tune, it's really a song of longing for Dr. King's still unrealized dream. You get the idea.
Rene Marie's singing is both as smooth as Peggy Lee and as gritty and soulful as Ray Charles. On this, her best album, she's certainly the voice of my beautiful country.
p.s. - DO NOT miss an opportunity to see her live. Fantastic.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Unique Take on Patriotic Standards June 5, 2011
Format:Audio CD|Amazon Verified Purchase
To be fair, I must disclose that I am a fan of ReneMarie; therefore, my comments may be somewhat biased. That being said, this particular CD, although not my favorite among her works, as usual, I found the material interesting, a unique take on some American standards, most particularly the juxtapositioning of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" and the tune of "Star Spangled Banner." I am constantly surprised by the range of her work; each CD seems to take a different track, from jazz standards to blues to her own compositions, and many places in between. I have seen her in concert several times, and find the same to be true there.
With her latest release Voice of My Beautiful Country (Motema Music), listeners will hear her trademark vocals but will also be struck by the wide variety of songs that she interprets. During the course of the album, Marie brings her personal touch to everything from Motown to Tin Pan Alley to “America the Beautiful.” But Voice of My Beautiful Country is much more than a demonstration of Marie’s eclectic musical tastes; it is an ambitious celebration of Americana and the cultural diversity of these United States.
Although most of Voice of My Beautiful Country is performed in English, Marie sings in Spanish on the Latin standard “Angelitos Negros,” After falling in love with Roberta Flack’s version of "Angelitos Negros" when she was a teenager, Marie included the song to acknowledge the importance of Hispanic culture as a basic building block of America.
It is hard to believe that Marie didn’t sing professionally until after she turned 40. But in fact, the Virginia native, married at 18, mother of two by 23 and a member of a strict religious group with her then husband only occasionally sang in public while she was focused on raising a family. It was in 1996 that Marie’s eldest son Michael urged her to take the plunge to pursue a career. “He told me that was exactly what I needed to do” she explains. Two years later following an ultimatum by her husband to either stop singing or leave their home, she chose to leave after 23 years of marriage.
What followed was a whirlwind of success and great critical acclaim rarely seen in the jazz world, from The LA Times to the Washington Post, from the Miami Herald to the Chicago Tribune. She has received several awards throughout her career including Best International Jazz Vocal CD (besting Cassandra Wilson and Joni Mitchell) by the Academie Du Jazz (Paris, France) and has graced the Billboard Charts multiple times propelling her to headliner status at major festivals in the US & abroad including the prestigious Women In Jazz festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Spoleto festival in Charleston, SC, the Edinburgh Jazz Festival (Scotland) Shanghai Jazz Festival (China) among many others.
In 2007 René Marie released Experiment in Truth as well as the single “This Is (Not) A Protest Song,” a fund-raiser for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. And in 2009 she released the sound track for her touring one-woman play, Slut Energy Theory (which follows the protagonist U’Dean Morgan, on a journey from sexual abuse to self esteem, imparting some very down home and hilarious wisdom along the way). Marie also released a digital single, “Three Nooses Hanging,” which musically embodied her shock and reaction to the Jena Six case in Louisiana.
Almost 15 years after the debut of Renaissance, René Marie’s creativity, boldness and exuberance take hold on Voice of My Beautiful Country. Documenting material that Marie has been performing to great effect for several years, it also follows up a nationally publicized incident where Marie was invited to sing The Star Spangled Banner in Denver at the Mayor’s State of the City address. Instead Marie sang the lyrics to ‘Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” with the melody of the Star Spangled Banner. The event touched off a firestorm of press and right wing criticism, and even death threats.
Often used to describe the classic Tin Pan Alley songs that Gershwin, Porter, Berlin and others composed during the first half of the 20th Century, The Great American Songbook for Marie also includes jazz, R&B, gospel, folk, rock and the blues — with her “Imagination Medley” she unites Tin Pan Alley, Motor City soul and rock by marrying Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Imagination” and Norman Whitfield & Barrett Strong’s “Just My Imagination” (a major hit for the Temptations in 1971 that was also covered by the Rolling Stones in 1978). Marie celebrates other aspects of Americana with interpretations of material that range from Dave Brubeck’s jazz jaunt, “Strange Meadow Lark” to the Dobie Gray hit “Drift Away” (a soul/soft rock favorite from the early 1970s) to the traditional folk standards “John Henry” and an anthemic version of “O Shenandoah.”
One of the most intriguing choices on Voice of My Beautiful Country is Jefferson Airplane’s psychedelic rock favorite “White Rabbit,” which was inspired by the drug counterculture of the late 1960s. Marie notes: “I picked Jefferson Airplane because of the affection that Americans have for mind-altering substances—not that it’s unique to this country, but it is an American personality trait. When I perform ‘White Rabbit’ live, I don’t like to tell audiences what we’re getting ready to do. I just like to see the expressions on their faces when they realize that we’re doing ‘White Rabbit.’”
The center and title piece of the album is Marie’s extraordinary Voice of My Beautiful Country Suite, an ambitious jazz and soul tinged medley of the patriotic anthems “America the Beautiful,” “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” On “America the Beautiful” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” Marie takes a radical departure by performing these exalted lyrics, familiar to us all, over fresh melodies that she has composed and over which she improvises. “The whole idea was to take the most popular forms of American music—jazz, blues and gospel—and use it to underscore the power and universality of these lyrics,” Marie points out. “I love the original melodies for ‘America the Beautiful’ and ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee’; my eyes get teary when I hear them, but there is another emotion altogether that gets touched when I sing over these new melodies, and I have found that audiences really get moved by bringing this new context, this new way to love our country.”
01. Strange Meadowlark
02. O Shenandoah
04. Just My Imagination
05. White Rabbit
06. Drift Away
07. John Henry
08. Angelitos Negros
09. America The Beautiful
10. Drum Battle
11. Piano Blues
12. My Country 'Tis of Thee
13. Lift Ev'Ry Voice and Sing/Star-Spangled Banner
14. America the Beautiful (Reprise)