Kevin On Kabaret :: Autumn Songbirds
"Barbie can marry Barbie and Ken can marry Ken/It doesn't always happen that way/But when it does well that's okay/Because God gave us hearts to love with/We don't know who or when/That special one will come along/And make your heart burst into song/And that's a beautiful thing" -- Judy Pancoast, "A Beautiful Thing."
Sometimes good things take time, but eventually talent rises to the top. Such is the case with downtown cabaret songbird Carol Lipnik, who has just released her sixth CD, "Almost Back to Normal," and is enjoying a weekly residency at swanky Pangea on Second Avenue, near 11th Street. Let Carol regale you every Sunday night at 7:30 p.m.
I had the pleasure of catching Lipnik's act a few weeks ago and I can say with some certainty that I have never seen or heard anyone quite like her. When she moves to the stage in her flowing, black, layered dress, combined with her midnight blue fingernails and softly falling red tresses, there is an aura of Stevie Nicks. However, when she begins to sing, her four-octave range can go from bluesy alto to folky soprano to operatic trills. The program contains mostly her own songs, but also work by Kurt Weill, David Byrne, Tom Ward, and her pianist Matt Kanelos, among others.
"I think I'm a bit of a mockingbird," Lipnik told me. "I can imitate any sound I hear."
Lipnik started out as a painter (she attended Pratt Institute), and that's how she approaches her music. "I have a palette of different sounds. I'm lucky that I have such a versatile voice," she said. "I can sound sweet like Judy Collins or raspy like Screamin' Jay Hawkins. It depends on the painting of the song."
Lipnik was born and raised on Coney Island. "I was fascinated by the decay and desolation, it kind of shaped my aesthetic," she recalled. "There used to be the Astro Tower, which didn't survive Hurricane Sandy, and it had a hole in the top. When the wind would blow, there was a spooky sound, kind of a whistling or howling. That's just one example of the beautiful desolation."
Although Lipnik's music is often haunting and serious, her humor is always within easy reach. At one point in the show, she was doing some vocal dips and trills and then winked to the audience and said, "That's jazz!" Laughs erupted.
"There is a duality present in every moment, and a release in both joy and sadness," she explained. "Light and darkness live together and I want to express that."
Of course, her visual arts background plays a part in the performance as well. "When I started singing, I was accompanying myself on guitar, and it was very limiting," she said. "I was so afraid of making a mistake with the chord. My goal now is to disappear into the song, and so I sing with my whole body. Movement is part of the sound in a way."
As for the latest recording (gorgeous, by the way), the title song came about in an odd way. "I had minor surgery for a torn meniscus in my knee. I was recovering, and a friend asked how I was doing. I said, 'Almost back to normal.' He said that was a great song title, so I eventually wrote it myself!"
"I have never aspired to be normal by any stretch of the imagination," Lipnik said. "You can be tyrannized by what the notion of normal is. But when you're healing and thinking of your pain, suddenly normal is a beautiful thing."
Lipnik noted that today's world is filled with uncertainty, and so the culture is anxious. "I think of the songs on the CD as shields or talismans to take to battle," she said.
Over the length of her Pangea residency, which has already been going for months and will continue through the end of the year (at least), Lipnik has welcomed such noteworthy guests as Joey Arias and Justin Vivian Bond, among many others. "I've inadvertently become the center of this alternative cabaret art scene!" she marveled. "Steven and Arnoldo at Pangea have been so supportive. It's such a pleasure to be doing what I'm doing in that environment. This is the way New York is supposed to be."
Carol Lipnik, growing a following after her years of hard work. She is a treasure among us. Catch her on Sundays (7:30) at Pangea in the East Village...
Readers, meet Judy Pancoast: singer/songwriter; radio announcer; 2011 Grammy nominee for her children's album "Weird Things Are Everywhere"; an artist known for holiday music, including her YouTube hit, "The House on Christmas Street," which has over 200,000 views; and creator of a Carpenters tribute show that has played several venues.
Judy Pancoast, born and raised in Maine and now living in New Hampshire, is also a married mother of two daughters and a church-going Episcopalian.
For the last couple of weeks, Pancoast has been gaining fans but also courting controversy for her new song, "A Beautiful Thing," which has a message for kids that it's okay for girls to marry girls and boys to marry boys. It already has several thousand hits on YouTube.
The song was actually inspired by her daughter, Emma. At a young age, Emma told her mother that she needed another Ken because she had extra Barbies and they needed to get married. Pancoast, who has grown up with gay friends her entire life, told her, "Barbie can marry Barbie." (At the beginning of the video, you will see actual footage of Emma playing with her Barbies in 1992. Pancoast calls the discovery of that VHS tape, "a golden moment.")
For years after that, Pancoast was obsessed with the idea of writing a song about that exchange, but did not write it until about three years ago.
"People told me if I put that out there, it would ruin my career. So I literally put it in my piano bench and sat on it," Pancoast told me. A while later, she sang at her friend's marriage to his partner. "It was so beautiful, and I wondered who could object to that?" She told a few people at the wedding about her song and they urged her to put it out into the world.
Still, it was a struggle. Her own producer (of her children's music) would not do it, and another turned her down as well. She eventually produced it herself, and got Grammy-winner Ricky Kej from India to do the arrangement of the song. The video was directed by New England filmmaker Nicole Girard.
As for her own Grammy nomination (she lost to Pete Seeger), she said it was a great validation for her lifetime of work. "I signed my first deal with a publisher at age fifteen, and then there I was at age 50 crying because I was nominated. I didn't have a publicity machine or a name. It was just a groundswell of support when Grammy voters started listening to it. "
"I was touring in England at the time, and my daughter called me to tell me about the nomination," she said. "We were screaming across the ocean! My whole family went to the show and we walked the red carpet. It was incredible!"
Pancoast pointed out, however, that although she gained respect in the music industry (which led her to Kej), her rates didn't go up. "I'm still living in the same house!" she laughed.
While Pancoast expected controversy with the new song, she was surprised by the tone of some of the listeners' comments. "I didn't think people would be so mean," she admitted. "One person told me I was the bride of Lucifer leading children to Hell. Another posted a dead animal on my Facebook fan page. Another accused me of pedophilia. One posted pornographic images of gay sex, but Facebook took it down before anybody saw it. And a woman told me I should have cement shoes at the bottom of the ocean. If they really knew me, they wouldn't say these things about me."
Pancoast went on. "I stand for all children and I don't like that children are bullied. Many children are growing up with two Mommies or two Daddies. It's the world we live in, and I just want to educate them in a way they can understand and know that it's okay."
Pancoast is giving her all to promote the song right now. "I feel that I was meant to do this," she said. "God has led me in this direction. I know that, in my heart, I'm doing the right thing. Jesus was not judgmental and he hung out with everybody. He brought a new law and it was love."
The song, of course, has had plenty of admirers as well. "A father came up to me after one of my children's shows last week and requested it," Pancoast said, although she doesn't yet feel she can perform it live at children's shows. Another told her it was an anthem. "That's what I wanted to hear. It's a dream of mine to sing it at a Pride parade."
Thus far, she hasn't noticed that the controversy has affected her career, although a few store owners told her they would not stock her Christmas music in their displays anymore. "It's not quite Christmas season yet," she said. "We'll see what happens."
Also in December, she hopes to release a dance mix and see if they can get it into the clubs.
"In my heart, I know I'm doing the right thing," Pancoast said. Check out the video and digital single. It is, indeed, "A Beautiful Thing"...
I decided to check out another New Englander, Boston's Brian de Lorenzo, who was in town with his Sinatra tribute, "Come Fly With Me," at Don't Tell Mama. De Lorenzo displays terrific musicianship, focusing mostly on Sinatra's uptempo songs, which allows him to swing and display his exuberant and charming personality. His occasional forays into ballad, though, are also splendid, whether it's a pairing of "Autumn Leaves" with the rare "Autumn in Rome," or the beloved "My Foolish Heart," which he makes his own. The evening is largely patter-free, but
de Lorenzo's theater background helps him to fully bring the intention out of the songs. This is not an imitation of the master, but a celebration of him. And de Lorenzo proves to be a master of the material himself. New Yorkers, be sure to catch him one more time at Don't Tell Mama on Saturday, November 7 at 7:00 p.m.
And now, Kev's faves: '80s phenom Howard Jones lands at The Iridium on November 5 and 7 with a solo piano performance. How about that? ...the great Baby Jane Dexter is back with a new show, at the Metropolitan Room, November 7, 21, and 28...Ruth Carlin returns with her acclaimed show, "A Light in the Window," a tribute to Judy Collins. Also at the Met Room, one night only, November 18...and Ann Hampton Callaway is back with her annual Thanksgiving week show, this time celebrating women songwriters Nov. 22-28.
Of course, there is so much more. Get out there and see what's available. Until next month...I'll see you over cocktails.