I'm glad Daria called the album Strawberry Fields Forever; Songs by the Beatles
(OA2 Records 22129). That subtitle offers Daria some creative latitude to reinterpret as she sees fit and desires to do. That is to say, she does not sing the Beatles' classics as mere repetitions, rather she reinvents those classic in Jazzy, sometimes bossa nova, arrangements with Afro-Cuban rhythms.
I'm a bit of a Beatles purist but there have been moments of sheer genius when some have reinterpreted Beatles tunes and done it beautifully. I'm thinking especially of Earth, Wind and Fire's Got to Get You into My Life. Loved it.
So I confess my skepticism at the beginning. But that was soon replaced by "Holy smokes! I like this arrangement!" You'll see what I mean.
Her career has been influenced by great Jazz standards and great Jazz teachers and mentors but she was raised on the Beatles. "I've been a big fan of the Beatles since I was a kid," she says. "I feel that their music is the new standard of our time." She wanted to keep the "essence of each song intact" and she has done exactly that. The chord changes may be different, the rhythms are most assuredly different, and the melodies undergo Jazzy twists, but there is no doubt that you are hearing the songs delivered with fondness and respect.
All of this comes after 10 years of touring with the late Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks group followed by touring on her own. Daria has a superb line-up with her. Jonathan Alford is on piano, Rhodes and organ, Sam Bevan is on bass, keyboards and guitar, Deszon Claiborne is on drums, with Michael Goerlitz and Colin Douglas on percussion and Jean Michel Huré on guitar. There are several guest artists who appear on various tracks.
The first track is McCartney's When I'm 64. Daria and Sam Bevan arranged the piece into bit of shuffle. The melody remains virtually unchanged but the rhythm section works it completely differently. Her delivery is certainly more like a Jazz standard that a Pop classic. Melechio Magdaluyo's saxophone solo is a beauty and Daria's trades with the trumpets are cool.
Joseph Cohen opens the next track, Strawberry Fields Forever, on the sitar. The percussive piano is a cool touch. Jean Michel Huré's guitar is a fine addition. Daria, meanwhile, has walked away from the original John Lennon version. It still carries the wistfully psychedelic imagery but in a Jazz bag. Her legato delivery produces a warm effect. Huré works a cool guitar punch against the smoother piano phrasing. Daria adds some psychedelic vocalizations of her own that keep the imagery fresh. Fade out sitar.
John Lennon goes back-to-back with Daria's rendition of Come Together. Huré's guitar is a great twist and the Brazilian rhythms plus Jonathan Alford's organ turn this classic into something that would make Lennon smile that enigmatic smile. Pay attention to Sam Bevan's magnificent bass.
McCartney's Fixing a Hole is an excellent turnabout. From psychedelia to Jazz, the transformation is fantastic. Henry Hung's trumpet solo is right on target. Alford's piano is straight-up Jazz and Bevan's bass with Claiborne's drums and Douglas's percussion is an impressive quintet backing to Daria's vocals.
Can't Buy Me Love is a McCartney composition that Daria uses as a platform for scat improve while Alford turns in brilliant piano Jazz.
What follows is a Beatles-based medley of McCartney's Blackbird, Ralph Towner's Icarus and Henderson/Dixon's Bye Bye Blackbird. She strings the three together with a three-fold cord of ballad, vocales and samba. And Daria nails all three styles, woven seamlessly together. Jean Michel Huré get a brilliant turn on the acoustic guitar and Alford's piano is always perfect.
The Fool on the Hill is the fourth in a row for McCartney. The hot horns are in full-throated support of Daria's bluesy intonations. Melechio Magdaluyo sports another smoking alto sax solo that is oh-so-fine. What a splendid arrangement.
If I Fell is John Lennon's piece that suffers no violence under Daria's arrangement. The Afro-Cuban rhythms and Matt Eakle's sweet flute. Again Alford's piano carries the Latin theme and, when paired with Eakle's flute and that magnificent rhythm section, the whole arrangement is on fire with Daria and Annie Stocking's backing vocals.
Julia may be the most heart-breaking of all of Lennon's songs. Written in memory of his mother who was killed by a drunk driver only shortly after she and John were reunited after years of separation. The cello of Alex Kelly carries the melancholia while Daria continues in a bossa nova vein. The quiet instrumental Jazz approach is a beautiful reinvention of the Lennon's original.
McCartney's Helter Skelter suffered a bad name thanks to the Manson cult. McCartney's subject was the spiral slide found in playgrounds. Sam Bevan picks up the guitar duties and he turns in an electrifying guitar riff or two. The hot horns return in brilliant backing to Daria's spiraling vocal delivery.
The album concludes with She's Going Home, a Daria original based on the Beatles tune She's Leaving Home. In a complete twist of tone, narrative, and tempo, Daria employs the same short-story technique that Lennon loved. Lennon's original was painful and was often difficult on the emotions, while Daria tells a happy tale.
It is as if she is continuing John's original story of the girl who left, on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, and is now going back home on Daria's album. In fact, I pulled out my Beatles album and listened to the Lennon song and followed it with Daria's song. It is a wonderful way to wrap up the story and to end the album. As much as I enjoyed the whole album, this was my favorite track. I'm not kidding.