“Close Your Eyes” opens with that kind of jazz number that’s not quite a standard, but resonates a jazz heyday that’s a joy to re-experience. You know that old movie scene … the one where the guy in the double-breasted suit walks into a nightclub and stares up at a siren in a lamé dress? That’s the one. The lights are low and the mood is sultry and the songs will inevitably be of seduction, love or heartbreak.
This is the setting for “Close Your Eyes”, the excellent debut album from Truly DiVine and Josh Johnston, a duo whose themed shows have delighted Dublin audiences over the past three years. With titles like “Burning Love”, “Dietrich’s Angels”, “Dreaming of Doris” and “Screen Sirens” the evenings presented both standard and lesser-known jazz songs in a velvet and cigarettes ambience, with Miss DiVine’s mellifluous vocal and flirty stage patter pitched splendidly against Johnston’s dry wit and consummate piano mastery. The result is no little magic.
The duo work seamlessly together. In fact, they come from completely different musical backgrounds. DiVine is a self-taught jazz singer who also studied theatre in her native Holland before taking up cabaret and eventually becoming a doyenne of the Dublin jazz and burlesque scene. Johnston studied classical piano and organ, recorded the debut of three albums in 2001 and has performed with a broad spectrum of contemporary musicians since then. In 2013 he became accompanist with the Cáca Milis Cabaret, where both he and DiVine would regularly appear. The album, like the shows, features songs that are intimate, clever and sexy, taking the listener from the first blush of flirtation through romance, obsession and heartbreak.
“The song choice was very obvious as we were going through what we had sung during the shows”, says Johnston. “There was very little disagreement on what we wanted on the album.”
“If it sounds intimate,” notes Truly DiVine, “that’s because the shows were always very intimate. Our ideal audience would be eighty to a hundred people – because I can see people and interact with them, interpret what kind of songs they are enjoying and run with that … “
The title track was originally written in 1933 by Bernice Petkere, and subsequently recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, and Doris Day. Songs may be familiar, such as “This Girl’s In Love With You” by Bacharach and David, or Arlen and Mercer’s classic “One For My Baby”, but others are far more obscure, such as “The Heat Is On”, originally banned in the U.S. as part of the soundtrack of “Miss Sadie Thompson” starring Rita Hayworth. “It is one of the songs on the album for which you can no longer even get sheet music,” explains DiVine. “This is one of the reasons why I love working with Josh. For example, “Johnny”, originally sung by Marlene Dietrich, only existed as a recording on my computer bounced from a videotape. But Josh listens to a song like this and can then do an interpretation.”
“I’ve specifically not tried to replicate the old songs,” explains Johnston. “On the other hand, we deliberately didn’t bring in extra musicians or extensive production because it’s all very much about the song …”
Love songs (“It’s Magic”), sassy songs (“Frim Fram Sauce”) and delightfully quirky ones like “Everything I’ve Got”, as sung by New York’s Blossom Dearie, all shine on the album, which is imminently listenable if not addictive. Truly DiVine’s voice is that of the über jazz chanteuse, clear, soulful and sensual. Johnston’s accompaniment does exactly what it’s supposed to until it bubbles into well-appointed filigree piano breaks, where smoky beat basement jazz blends with Hollywood rococo and back into a perfect match with the vocal.
Truly DiVine and Josh Johnston will be performing the songs from “Close Your Eyes” this Spring and early Summer, starting with the official launch on Friday April 8th 2016 at 8pm in the Dublin Unitarian Church on St. Stephen’s Green. Tickets €15 on the night or €12 in advance from www.dublinunitarianchurch.org
It will also be available from most popular music download websites from mid-April 2016.
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