Music

Shirley Horn: May the Music Never End

Rob Horning

Shirley Horn

May the Music Never End

Label: Verve
US Release Date: 2003-06-24
UK Release Date: 2003-08-04
Amazon
iTunes

In his liner note blurb, critic Stanley Crouch argues that jazz vocalist Shirley Horn makes music for adults, linking the shallow frivolity of current popular music to its eagerness to please the youth market. At a time when 30-year-olds in both Britain and the United States feel no compunction at reading nothing but children's books and going out dancing to '80s music dressed up in their school uniforms, it may very well be that the adult is an endangered species, likely to leave no audience capable of the patience and attention required to begin to appreciate Horn's careful and eloquent phrasing.

Horn doesn't have the kind of voice capable of pyrotechnical explosions into stratospheric octaves, but she has the ability to enunciate unerringly, implying several shades of emotion with each phrasing, a talent far more significant far more difficult to obtain, as it requires the combination of intuition and intelligence with years of practice rather than the simple exercise of a harnessed natural gift. Her voice is slow and deep, rich and precise, under such complete control that her every nuance is capable of connoting conscious choice, and thus artistic meaning. And she is never theatrical, never false -- she uses no gimmicks or tricks, no flashy shifts in register, no pretentious pronunciations, no affected sobs, to accomplish her ends.

Crouch makes much the same point, attributing this to a metaphysical quotient of "soul", but this seems to unnecessarily mystify and spiritualize Horn's actual accomplishments. Comparing her approach on early albums such as Loads of Love and Shirley Horn with Horns to what she evinces here reveals how much subtlety can be learned over 40 years of professional performance. Her voice is just as clear, just as firm as it was then, only now she is able to carry songs with virtually no arrangement to buoy her. With the exception of "Take Love Easy", the instrumental backings here are minimal, spare almost to the point of vanishing, often stripped down to sparse piano and the brushing of a cymbal. It's lonely, late night music, with the tempos meditative, the moods ruminative, and the emotions quietly desperate. "Ill Wind" and "This is All I Ask" weren't conceived as seven minute dirges, but that is what they become in Horn's hands, making a listener wonder if indeed the music will never end. Her singing is wonderfully expressive throughout, but no amount of expression could prevent these songs, so similar in emotional tone, from sounding the same. The second half of the disc, particularly, drags, conjuring the scene of a cabaret bar long after closing time, with a woman perched at the piano, so enamored of her own emotive powers that she refuses to let the night end, even though it has been a long, depressing one.

Because so many of them sound so similar, the song selection almost seems immaterial, but a few tracks stand out. The opener, "Forget Me", features some lively (relatively speaking) dynamics from pianist George Mesterhazy, and "Yesterday" presents the all too familiar Beatles song in a surprisingly fresh manner, dragging it out into a torch song, draining it of all its easy sentimentality, and discovering within it a fair amount of authentic anguish. Horn's reading of Jacques Brel's "If You Go Away" blends pleading with resignation perfectly, creating an almost unbearable amount of tension. Such tension, which surfaces to greater and lesser degrees in all the songs is what ultimately rescues Horn's performances from becoming boring background music. No matter how turgid she may choose to make her arrangements, she never fails to convince listeners that real feelings are at stake, animating her need to sing in the first place. But it may be that contemporary audiences don't want anything to be at stake, don't want tension, but would prefer music that would allow them to escape from complexity into something soothingly bland. This is why smooth jazz has eradicated jazz altogether, and why all the singers of Horn's stature are so old. No one is emerging to replace them.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

9
Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.