Another exploration of Jerome Kern is always welcome. Kern was the model and inspiration for Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers and all the masters who followed. Seattle-based vocalist Kelly Harland could not have chosen a richer source of quality songs. She also could not have chosen a better duo to accompany her. The always tasteful Bill Mays is at the piano and her husband, Chuck Deardorf is the bassist. The most prominent aspect of Kern's music is the extraordinary vein of melodic invention, and the best of his melodies, such as "Make Believe," "Long Ago and Far Away" and "All the Things You Are" are flawless and impossible to forget. Fortunately Harland and her duo included these three as well as eight other Kern gems.
They kick things off with a spirited version of the beloved standard "I'm Old Fashioned," a splendid song both musically and lyrically (the words are by Johnny Mercer). Many people associate "Don't Ever Leave Me" with the early torch singer Helen Morgan who introduced it in the Broadway show Sweet Adeline but, as the better singers do, Harland makes the song uniquely her own. Although written as a ballad, many jazz artists choose to perform "The Song Is You" as an up tune. Harland begins it as a ballad but then picks up the tempo, swinging easily. She included the short but effective verse to "Look for the Silver Lining" and sang the song as a wistful slow ballad bringing to life Buddy DeSylva's rather pedestrian lyrics. Space does not permit a discussion of each selection. But a high point of Harland's latest CD is a glorious medley of "Can I Forget You" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" which she begins with the verse to Kern's under-recorded but pretty "Can I Forget You."
One minor quibble. The ten selections are too predictable. To her credit Harland and her duo provide a fresh reworking of these over-ripe evergreens and her inclusion of some verses also helped immensely. But Kern, like all the masters, wrote many songs that are inexplicably overlooked. A collection such as this is a perfect opportunity to explore some unjustly ignored songs such as "All in Fun" or "Heaven in My Arms," just to cite two seldom examined but most worthy Kern songs.
When Kern himself was pleased with a performance of his material, he was said to remark in his understated style, "That was well made." Well, by his exacting, fastidious standards, that Kern set for himself, we may also say of the Kelly Harland Sings Jerome Kern CD: That was well made ? very well made. Kelly Harland is a singer who is a pleasure to listen to. Her voice is notable for ease, flexibility and expressiveness.