Mike Roots | Rating: ★★★★★ | March 22, 2011
Everything on the front cover of Scot Crandal's Now & Again evokes vintage music, from the sepia tone photograph of Crandal seated at a piano, hand on head and pen to paper, to the font type and “stereo” insignia in the upper right corner. Even the CD itself has been designed to look like a vinyl platter. Frankly, one could be forgiven for assuming the disc was a reissue of “an album of fresh, original jazz songs” (as described on the front cover) recorded decades ago. Since Crandal’s wide-ranging musical exploits as a singer, pianist and composer include classical, jazz, rock and liturgical music, it makes perfect sense that such thought would go into preparing the listener for the eleven songs contained on Now & Again. In fact, in conveying his inspiration for the project, a collaborative effort between Crandal and lyricist Nancy Jerrick, he makes it clear the intention was to write and record a body of songs that sounded familiar. To capture the quality and spirit of such contributors to the Great American Songbook as Cole Porter, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald was the more specific objective. With the use of just piano and vocals, the melodies and lyrics are brought into the spotlight, and the results are rather good.
As one might expect, romantic love, whether experienced and appreciated, yearned for or lost, is the lyrical heart of Now & Again. The wistful “Any Day Now” effectively sets the tone with Crandal’s smooth, soulful and powerful vocals. Jerrick’s lyrics beautifully capture hope undimmed by the pain of longing and loneliness; “Always standing at the sidelines, wondering how it would be / Any day now, I just know it, love will finally find me.” Crandal’s satisfying piano accompaniment is spot on, providing perfect support and framework.
“Now You’ve Heard It from Me,” with its spry rhythm and melody, would certainly sound at home if it were sung by Tony Bennett. Crandal’s magnificent vocal embraces lines such as “Some things, like the breath we take, seem to need no mention / But just so there is no mistake, I will state my intention.” Jerrick's poetry here is linear yet thoughtful, radiating with a sense of joy and relief at being able to express love once concealed but now welcomed and free to communicate. The piano blues of “Bad Storm Comin’ In” is a lively number in which Crandal cathartically asserts his disinterest in reuniting with a former love who once left but now desires to return. As he sings, “You've got a soul like frozen sleet and a heart made out of ice / Now you're left out in the cold, and I'm not even thinkin' twice” it’s clear he feels better off without her. Crandal adds grit and fervor, coming across joyful rather than bitter.
Then arrives the contrite “Now and Again,” with its aching articulation of the sorrow and desolation experienced after a break up. Jerrick’s lyrics provide a vivid and intimate glimpse of one still in the process of healing and moving on, still prone to occasionally looking back at what might have been. Once again, Crandal, with both voice and piano, delivers with emotive substance and musicality. The bouncy confessional “I Guess I Need a Second Chance,” clocking in at less than two minutes, is a confident yet humble plea for, as the title would suggest, a second chance at love.
Tinged by melancholy, “No Regrets” is Crandal's genuine attempt to reach an amicable conclusion to failed love, as difficult as it is. As he sings, “No regrets, this is just the way it turned out to be / No regrets, as you said, love’s tide can change like the sea,” it’s clear he's still working through it all. In her lyrics, Jerrick thoughtfully conveys sadness without resentment, resolving that it’s best for both parties to move on. In terms of musical structure, “No Regrets” certainly keeps to the tradition of countless American standards.
“So Much, So Fast, So Soon” is fun, daring and brisk, but Crandal is once again up to the task. Jazzy vocal phrasing and sprightly piano would seem to make for a musical tightrope, but it all holds together nicely. The theme of coping, healing and moving on after the dissolution of a relationship, familiar to “Now & Again,” once again surfaces in “Can't Seem to Find My Way.” As Crandal sings, “Sleepless past midnight, still up at dawn / Swear by the first light, today’s the day I’m moving on,” the sentiments are utterly convincing. Similar emotional territory is explored in “Summer Heat,” albeit with a more upbeat musical approach. The twist here is that rather than being satisfied with a split, Crandal passionately longs for and expresses his hope and desire for love to be rekindled.
With joyful confidence and abandon, Crandal melds the pretty poetry and dancing piano of “Until You” into something smile-inducing. The warm sincerity of “Loving Just You” takes on just a touch of modern flair with Crandal’s soulful delivery and enthusiastic approach to the piano. These final two songs serve nicely to break through emotional clouds to offer a sunny conclusion.
As ambitious as Now & Again is in its pursuit of the lofty goal of finding a fitting and comfortable place within the canon of American standards and jazz vocal pieces, it succeeds in a marvelous way. Rather than mine the trove of recordings and compositions of yesteryear, Crandal and Jerrick have produced an album of fresh and inspired songs that nonetheless serve as a tribute to an era they aspire to capture.
Bryan Rodgers | Rating: ★★★★☆ | March 23, 2011
One corner of the consciously minimalist cover art for Scot Crandal’s Now and Again contains the phrase “an album of fresh, original jazz songs.” For listeners who don’t immediately associate jazz with the image of a lone dude singing at a piano, the advertisement is not altogether true. This album’s eleven songs are most certainly and wholly original, but the prevailing mood is as much one of pop as it is of jazz. Forget the labels thrust upon the music by listeners or by Crandal himself. There’s a greater power at work, and it’s the team of Crandal, who performs the entire album, and lyricist Nancy Jerrick. Jerrick’s songs immediately sound familiar, and Crandal’s voice is a clear, penetrating tenor that turns her words into pop gold. They’re a quintessentially American pair that produces timeless songs, many of which boast a quality worthy of the finest songsmiths. Straightforward yet satisfying lyrics like those found in the album’s opening track, “Any Day Now,” are indicative of their talents. “Any day now / I just know it / love will finally find me” is the kind of easily adaptable sentiment listeners will find throughout the album. Even the song titles read like something out of the early 20th century: “Now You’ve Heard It from Me,” “So Much, So Fast, So Soon.”
Now and Again at once smacks of piano bars and jazz clubs, movie studios and concert halls. Crandal has worked in TV and film music, so there’s a strong theatrical element to the album. Now and Again plays out like some lost Hollywood or Tin Pan Alley songbook, simultaneously bringing to mind icons like Burt Bacharach, Randy Newman, James Taylor, Fats Waller, and Frank Sinatra. With simply structured piano backing his singing, Crandal instantly becomes an amalgam of classic crooners. His voice has the arresting power of Etta James, the smoothness of Kurt Elling, and the personality of a Bacharach or Sinatra. He’s diverse too, moving easily from the impassioned blues mood of “Bad Storm Comin’ In” to the regal title track, which unfolds with lovelorn, cinematic drama.
The album’s lyrical and vocal accomplishment is firmly held aloft by Crandal’s arrangements and piano work. It’s obvious that Crandal spends a good amount of time as he is pictured on the album’s cover, sitting at a piano with pencil and paper in hand, working up ageless melodies to complement Jerrick’s words. Sometimes, he lets the words roam free, such as on the joyous “I Guess I Need a Second Chance,” which sounds like a jazz standard by means of its oft-utilized arrangement. “Summer Heat” reveals Crandal’s innate ability to crib particularly catchy melodic phrases from the world’s pop catalog and make them his own. The verses have a familiar feel that can’t be pinpointed, but can’t be denied. “No Regrets” is an evocative piece that sounds like it could be played over the rueful climax of a movie. Crandal’s elegant chording, mournful melodies, and natural vocals make the tune one of the best on the album. He doesn’t sound quite as comfortable on the frantic “So Much, So Fast, So Soon,” though the piano work is perhaps some of the most interesting. Also, “Can’t Seem to Find My Way” is one of the album’s few low points. It’s just a bit too heaving and wordy, though Crandal still impresses, particularly during one vocal moment where he really lets loose. The album does start to sound somewhat homogenized after 10 tracks of the same instrumentation. “Until You” and “Loving Just You” are just as well done as other songs, but the listener might be tired of the same old thing after 40 minutes. Even so, Now and Again is a rare modern release full of great songs that remind us how simple and sweet pop music can be.
Alex Henderson | Rating: ★★★★☆ | March 28, 2011
On its front cover, singer/pianist Scot Crandal’s Now & Again is described as “an album of fresh, original jazz songs.” Between that description, the decidedly retro artwork, and the words “stereo: a high-fidelity recording,” this CD’s front cover goes out of its way to look like a jazz LP that Prestige or Blue Note Records would have released in the late 1950’s/early 60’s. It would be a mistake, however, to think of Crandal as a jazz purist or a total bebopper. Although jazz-oriented, this Oregon resident has plenty of non-jazz influences as well, ranging from Tin Pan Alley and cabaret to Stevie Wonder and pop-rock. Plus, he has no doubt listened to some Billy Joel and Randy Newman along the way (even though Now & Again lacks the cynicism and biting humor that has often characterized Newman’s work). So, anyone who expects Crandal to follow too closely in the stylistic footsteps of Jon Hendricks, Bob Dorough, or the late King Pleasure is bound to be disappointed.
The expressive, smooth-voiced Crandal’s acoustic piano is the only instrument on this 42-minute CD. While a one-man show where the music is concerned, Crandal had some help in the songwriting department from lyricist Nancy Jerrick who provided the words to Crandal’s melodies. Crandal and Jerrick’s passion for the great Tin Pan Alley composers of the 1920’s-50’s is evident, chief among them Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Harry Warren, Rodgers & Hart and Irving Berlin. These influences are especially strong on “Now You’ve Heard It from Me,” “Until You” and “I Guess I Need a Second Chance.” But other parts of this introspective album aren’t nearly as Tin Pan Alley-minded. “Bad Storm Comin’ In” is a 12-bar blues, while “Summer Heat” and the title track both have a Stevie Wonder quality.
“So Much, So Fast, So Soon,” with its tricky vocal phrasing, is the closest that Now & Again comes to hardcore vocal-ese. It’s a complex bop tune that would not be out of place on a Jon Hendricks or Bob Dorough album. Crandal handles himself equally well as a torch singer. The ballads “Can’t Seem to Find My Way,” “No Regrets” and “Any Day Now” (which opens the CD) are all examples of modern-day torch singing. “Can’t Seem to Find My Way” is melancholy through and through, whereas “Any Day Now” is melancholy and hopeful at the same time. On “Any Day Now,” Crandal works a melancholy melody as he sings about loneliness and heartbreak, while Jerrick’s lyrics express a belief that the loneliness will soon end.
Recording an album with only one instrument (in Crandal’s case, acoustic piano) can be risky for a jazz-oriented vocalist. Having only one instrument leaves the singer naked, vulnerable and exposed, potentially drawing attention to an artist’s flaws and weaknesses as well as his strengths. Crandal doesn’t need any hiding room, though, and the intimate vocals/piano format that he favors on Now & Again serves him well. He may not be a jazz purist or a bop snob, but Now & Again makes it clear that he is an artist of quality and substance.