“…to be delicate without losing sass and power…” And with those words Charles Ruggiero has summed up perfectly why he chose to make this record – The Music of The Bird and The Bee – with no one else but Hilary Gardner. Miss Gardner is an artist of the first order. She sounds as if singing is her most natural mode of expression. Her instrument is gorgeous: lustrous, precise and feather-light. Her musicianship is fierce as she digs into the expression of each word, brings ceaseless variety to soft dynamics and gives every phrase a special grace.
Miss Gardner and Mr Ruggiero come together here, of course, to celebrate a duo that may not be as well-known as Ike and Tina, Sonny and Cher or Tuck and Patti, but the duo in question – The Bird and The Bee – comprising Inara George and Greg Kurstin are no less iconic and their covers of Hall and Oats and The Bee Gees are legion among discerning musicians such as Mr Ruggiero and Miss Gardner. But this recording is no mere “cover”. Both Miss Gardner and drummer, Mr Ruggiero (the drummer is also responsible for all of the musical arrangements here) have reinvented this music with the assistance of pianist Jeremy Manasia and bassist Neal Miner. Together these musicians bring a deeply interiorised reading of the music that complements Miss Gardner’s execution.
Yet while the result of this recording is predictably awe-inspiring, the music of The Bird and The Bee is most affecting when it is at its most intimate – as in “Lovey Dovey” and “Diamond Dave” – as well as when it is playful – as in “Fucking Boyfriend”. Likewise here, Miss Gardner may be called upon to “invent” a myriad of personas in order to stay in character, so to speak. This doesn’t seem to be a very big deal for her because of the breadth of her emotive capabilities which, when combined with her pristine voice and enviable range, is able to inhabit songs and their vignettes in a very special way.
The warm and judiciously nuanced account of “Diamond Dave” and the day at “The Races”, both sung with smoky authority by Miss Gardner and niftily played by the trio of musicians behind her, are timely reminders near the end of a superb set that this is a recording to die for…
Track list – 1: Meteor; 2: Fucking Boyfriend; 3: Lovey Dovey; 4: You’re a Cad; 5: Come as You Were; 6: Diamond Dave; 7: The Races; 8: 4th of July
Personnel – Hilary Gardner: vocals; Jeremy Manasia: piano; Neal Miner: contrabass; Charles Ruggiero: drums
Released – 2019
Label – Smalls Live SL0061)
Runtime – 37:01