Kate McGarry has been singing all of her life. She grew up in a family with 10 kids, and they all sang all the time. She eventually studied jazz at UMass-Amherst. Archie Shepp was one of her mentors, and the roiling heart one hears in Shepp's '60s albums can also be heard in McGarry's singing.
She sings around a melody like a saxophonist. She dances through the harmony. She twists and whirls words so touchingly that she casts a spell. And all of her enchantment comes through on McGarry's newest album, The Subject Tonight Is Love.
With her other half, guitarist Keith Ganz, and the always adventurous Gary Versace on the keys and the accordion, McGarry transforms all the primary colors of classic songs into intimate pastels. One of the album's highlights — Benny Golson's "Fair Weather," a song haunted by Chet Baker — Kate offers as "a much needed ode to brotherhood in these troubled times. Love thy neighbor."
Several of her own songs counterpoint the standards. "Climb Down" is her "dream-like argument with the ghosts of my Irish ancestors, exhorting them," she says, "to stop haunting me." With her song "Losing Strategy #4," she's singing that "some life lessons are learned the hard way."
All of the songs are meant as lessons of love. Fleeting love. Fractured love. Courageous love. Love that breaks away façades we hide behind. That's what she sings about with Egberto Gismonti's "Playing Palhaço." We're like a clown in a hall of mirrors, she says. "Love unmasks us."
The Subject Tonight Is Love sounds like the title of a self-help seminar, but Kate McGarry is not at all preaching. She's witty. She's wistful. She's loving. And as a philosophical punch-line, as the Beatles have said, so Kate McGarry sings that "All You Need Is Love."
1) Prologue: The Subject Tonight Is Love
2) Secret Love
3) Climb Down / Whiskey You're The Devil
4) Gone With The Wind
5) Fair Weather
6) Playing Palhaço
7) Losing Strategy
8) My Funny Valentine
9) Mr. Sparkle / What A Difference A Day Made
10) She Always Will / The River
11) Indian Summer
12) Epilogue: All You Need Is Love