Fred Farell’s “Distant Song” is a moody exploration of romance

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For 50 years, Fred Farell has made a name for himself singing jazz in traditional styles. His latest album, “Distant Song” is an example of one man using his well-tuned instrument for expressive purposes.

Farell’s career has included work as a soloist and ensemble singer. He has performed in places such as Avery Fisher Hall, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Museum of Modern Art. Farell’s career has been built on the strength of his ability to interpret songs and to imbue them with his heartfelt lyricism.

Listening to Farell is like stepping back in time, to mid-20th century America, when jazz and romance were popular. His soundscapes are like odes to love with a side of urbanity. With a total running time of almost one hour spread out among 10 songs, Farell’s “Distant Song” provides enough soothing sounds for listeners to lose themselves and to ponder the human condition as told through the songs the singer crafts.

Farell is joined by Dave Liebman on soprano and tenor saxophones, and Richie Beirach on acoustic piano.

 

“Broken Wing” by Fred Farell

The song begins with Farell’s voice. The piano edges in to underscore his words. The saxophone plays a moody motif that floats over the lyrics and the piano. The overall feel of the song is that of a black and white movie, one rich with nuances that must be observed to be appreciated. In a way, that describes Farell’s voice. His sometimes off-kilter rhythms work to create jazz in a traditional sense. Also, the rhymes are unconventional. For instance: “Every time I fall, it hurts more/for it seems I’ve so far to go…”

The stylish awkward phrasing is achieved because “more” and “for” are the rhyming pair, but they appear at the end and beginning of a phrase, respectively. There is a plaintive lilt to Farell’s voice that draws listeners in as he pushes through the emotional rendering of the song.

“Leaving” by Fred Farell

A faint piano scheme opens the sparse soundscape. The instrument’s sound becomes more “present” but even without lyrics, the emotional qualities of the song begin to reveal themselves. Before the piano motif grows moody, it brightens for two or so measures. This adds a necessary dynamic to the piece. The momentary brightness prevents the song from getting too bogged down. As the song continues, the notes get occasionally strident, before settling into a nuanced motif that sounds as though higher and lower pitches are echoing each other. Deep, dark notes break up the pattern before it regains its sparse quality again.

The song is about what the title indicates. The lyrics indicate that the narrator is not willing to give up whatever dream he had of his life with his significant other. The phrase “desperate kiss” is pushed out, hard, and is accented by what sounds like a recorder. Liebman also plays wooden recorder on the release, in addition to saxophones.

The lyrics paint a picture of gray skies, a chugging train, a man reluctant to board as his beloved stands “dejected” on a platform, watching him leave. It is not clear to listeners if the narrator intends to return. Again, unconventional rhyme plays a pivotal role: “nights to be/ my sanity” are paired and listeners do not expect it. When Farell’s voice breaks a little, it sounds as if the world of the song is real, and that makes the track more poignant.

From  just a few tracks from the album “Distant Song,” listeners can tell that Farell is a craftsman of lyrics. The clear picture he has in mind is transferred to the mind of listeners, and that makes the idea of jazz as art clear on this album. He has literally shared his vision with others.

“Distant Song” is available on iTunes and Amazon.com and is a product of Whaling City Sound records.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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