The stage is not enough for cabaret powerhouse Tricity Vogue. Rounding up a dozen hepcats from the scene – many of them members of her excellent backing band – the London diva has at last cut her debut album, after years wowing crowds on both sides of the English Channel. But don’t be misled by the title: this is not a full soundtrack to the homonymous acclaimed Edinburgh Festival Fringe show. Rather, The Blue Lady Sings is a concise sampler of Vogue’s wide-ranging output, and a dynamic musical tour de force guaranteed to make you hop, sway and smile (in no particular order).
Coming from a seasoned vaudevillian, it’s no surprise that the album packs a full supply of tongue-in-cheek sass. Double entendres and bawdy innuendo feature regularly both in original compositions and covers, which include tunes as disparate as Put the Blame on Mame from Gilda and the Disney standard Bare Necessities. In Big Band Blues, the singer chronicles what it’s like to have been dumped by 22 men at the same time when her band walked out on her, while the purring invitation of Pussycat Paws conjures up daydreams of all-night, anything-goes partying.
Musically, the album is a swinging gem, brimming with funky harmonies and catchy syncopation. The unmistakable jazzy feel of Jim Ydstie’s double bass, Stu Ritchie’s crash-ride cymbals and Rosa Conrad’s piano proves remarkably versatile, rocking through a variety of tempos and styles. Nick Trepka’s creative production fully explores the canon of cabaret nostalgia, compellingly mimicking old recordings in cuts like Everybody Today Is Turning On, cladding a duet between Vogue and fellow vaudevillian Dusty Limits in 50s jolliness. Likewise, the scratchy splendour of Milkshake so utterly resembles a Robert Johnson 1930s race record that the mind struggles to recognize the 2003 hip hop hit it stems from.
Considering Tricity Vogue’s status as one of the top ukulele conspirators in London, it is somewhat striking to find the small instrument so conspicuously underrepresented in The Blue Lady Sings. Even with the additional uke of the awe-inspiring Martin Wheatley (of The Hula Bluebirds and The Arcadians), its delicate, frisky sound easily vanishes in the swinging maelstrom of most songs. With the exception of the two aforementioned faux-vintage tracks, in which no other instrument is played, only Bare Necessities gives the ukulele the same prominence it enjoys in the chanteuse’s live performances.
Vogue’s remarkable voice, on the other hand, is captured in her full range, and not only musically. The singer promptly moves from dainty Peggy Lee highs to rowdy bluesy lows, with seamless pitch (compare, for instance, Pussycat Paws and Bare Necessities) – but it is in its expressive range that her delivery reveals the enticing diversity that can only be honed on cabaret stages. The record’s rich and varied repertoire would be largely wasted if the vocalist couldn’t sneer, taunt, whisper and insinuate with her mere inflection, which she does as naturally as she moans and croons in subdued emotional ballads like the sweetly absorbing Table for Two. The vintage recording shtick backfires on Say Hello Wave Goodbye, leaving Vogue’s voice tinny (and also detracting from the track’s beautiful string arrangements). But other than that, you’d need a Tom Waits greatest hits to outmatch Ms. Vogue’s rich vocal theatricality.
With its release entirely funded by online pledges from followers, friends and fellow philanderers on Kickstarter.com, The Blue Lady Sings makes for deeply engaging listening, both for fans of the show and newcomers. Stripped of its live theatrical antics, Sometimes I Wish I Had a Gun, for instance, sizzles with a much-enhanced loungy allure. The Hindi-sung Choli Ke Peeche, the album’s undisputed highlight, fully comes to life with its epic melodic onslaught and contagious beat, weaving a sitar-like texture as entrancing as the singer’s sensual contralto. Vogue’s supporters enjoyed everything from free kazoos to personal serenades among the many perks that came with their pledges. But the greatest treat coming their way will be an album that brilliantly takes the pulsating vividness of cabaret beyond the confines of the stage – a feat Tricity Vogue proves as accomplished in as her cerulean alter ego.
The Blue Lady Sings by Tricity Vogue; Tricity Vogue Records, 2010. £12 from www.tricityvogue.com
Photo credits: Lydia Piechowiak (Tricity Vogue and Martin Wheatley), Alex Brenner (The Blue Lady Sings live shot)