Pretty in Pink, Promising in Jazz
Okay, here’s the big news: Molly Ringwald is not quite a jazz singer—not if she aspires to the command and confidence of her idols, like Ella Fitzgerald, or even to the stylistic distinction of her recent interview buddy . But listening to Ringwald’s new album, Except … Sometimes, and trying to nail down which classic pop singer Ringwald most resembled, I got the distinct flavor on certain high, sustained notes of a quite unexpected and distant tonal relative, Patti Austin. This is praise for Ringwald’s natural sound as a newbie recording artist. She has the pleasing neutrality of a top-flight jingle singer, as Austin was when in between Quincy Jones albums. Ringwald rekindles this smooth vibe on the album’s most satisfying (and gimmicky) cut, a smoky remake of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me,” first heard in one of Ringwald’s biggest Brat Pack flicks, The Breakfast Club.
If Ringwald is trying to trade up to Rat Pack-level credibility, she’s off to a good start, but there’s a disconnect between her band’s messaging and her own as the leader and star of this project. Nicely arranged by pianist Peter Smith, except for an overreliance on dual-horn counterpoint, the band, featuring Clayton Cameron (drums), Trevor Ware (bass), Winston Byrd (trumpet), and Bruce Forman (guitar), exhibits a sturdy jazz confidence and stays in its own space, never fighting with Ringwald’s non-aggressive voice. But the group is mixed front and center, which crushes the dynamics when Ringwald needs the most support. Consequently, the soft pop/R&B treatment of “Don’t You Forget About Me,” seems to fit her best, putting her in territory frequently occupied by Sade and, hmm, Patti Austin.
The album is best served by Ringwald’s nice choice of material that’s not overly familiar nor obscure, including Stephen Sondheim’s “Sooner or Later,” Hoagy Carmichael’s “I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes),” and Lionel Bart’s “Where is Love?,” along with comfort standards by Kern and Fields, McHugh and Fields, Ray Noble, and Frank Loesser. Ringwald clearly tends toward the emotion-laden lyrics beloved by theater-cabaret artists (she’s already done the Broadway shows Cabaret and Sweet Charity), such as those of “Ballad of the Sad Young Men,” and happier ditties like “Pick Yourself Up” and “Exactly Like You.” But where the accompaniment to the best theatrical interpreters would prioritize dynamics to support the emotional content of the lyrics, the mix of Except Sometimes creates a wall between the listener and the feelings Ringwald wants to convey. Still, she comes across as a dedicated and competent jazz fan who cares about the material. Like another of her idols, Blossom Dearie, Ringwald says, here I am, here’s what I dig, take it or leave it. Of course Ringwald doesn’t have the unique sound of Dearie, nor the chops and seasoning to run with a new pack. Not yet, anyway.
Performance: C+; Arrangements: B; Overall: B