Music Review: Margot Blanche Pages In My Diary
When American jazz came to Europe in the 1920's it inspired a new type of night club performance. Cabaret, was a mixture of live theatre, burlesque, and a musical revue with featured vocalists. If you've ever seen either The Blue Angel starring Marlene Dietrich or Cabaret starring Liza Minelli, you'll have a good idea as to the kind of performances that were seen in those places that presented cabarets. Those who sang in cabarets were encouraged to sing in as suggestive a manner as possible, drawing upon the sensuality inherent in jazz and blues to make it as sensual as possible.
Perhaps because cabaret style performances were driven in part by the desperation of the times, an attempt to cram as much fun as possible into a short period of time before the inevitable war, it did not survive WW2. After the war, with all the competition for the entertainment dollar, and the advent of accessible home entertainment, fewer were willing to take the financial risk involved in mounting such lavish entertainment.The closest thing to it that we have today is the plastic sexuality of the Las Vegas show.
Another reason for the demise of cabaret has been the compartmentalization of popular music which has led to there being fewer and fewer performers with the skill to perform the variety of music it required of a singer. There aren't many vocalists who have the ability to not only sing the styles of music required, but have the ability to put on a show as well. That doesn't mean there aren't any out there, and if her newest self-produced and distributed release, Pages In My Diary, is anything to go by, Margot Blanche not only has the abilities to sing a variety of styles, she appears to have the required panache for the showmanship side of things as well.
Judging by the images that are included of her in the booklet accompanying the CD she has created a persona for this disc modelled after Varga girls and other classic pin up images from the 1940s. The twelve tracks that are included on the disc, all of which she has at least co-authored, contain elements that are reminiscent of that era, along with more contemporary stylings. She has even gone so far as to include production values on some of the numbers that generate the sound of a song being heard through the thin compressed sound of an old mono, tube radio to help re-create an authentic atmosphere.
If that weren't enough for us to get the idea of what she was trying to accomplish there are even some songs which include samplings of singers like Bessie Smith, Cab Calloway, and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. However, least you think she is merely trying to recreate the past her songs also contain elements of hip hop, soul, and R&B and the occasional sample of more contemporary performers like Isaac Hayes and The Meters. While this is beginning to sound like a hideous pastiche of music that will end up a confusing mess, that estimation fails to take into account Margot Blanche's skill as a both a performer and a composer.
She is not only gifted with a voice that has the range to work comfortably at either end of the scale and well beyond a single octave, it's a voice with an exceptional amount of character and the versatility to handle any of the formats she attempts. From the hard edged, street smart voice required for the hip-hop/rap flavour of the title track, "Introduction (Pages Of My Diary)", the teasing sounds of "Material Love", to the genuine soulfulness of "Beautiful Soul", she is able to accommodate all the styles she attempts with ease and naturalness.
Where many people who attempt multiple styles of music within one recording come across as unconvincing or insincere, Margot Blanche is not only able to carry them all off with equal aplomb, but does so sounding like she was born to sing that particular genre. While in part this is due to her ability as a vocalist, it's also a tribute to her talents as a performer. Instead of merely assuming an attitude that would be appropriate for a song, she goes a lot deeper and creates a character who fits what's being expressed in the material.
Of course that makes a lot of sense once you understand that Pages Of My Diary is not merely a collection of love songs. Think of it as a collection of diary entries, each of which are a reflection of the different approaches one person could take to the thorny and complicated subject of love. It's as if Margot has opened the pages of a diary where she's allowed different personalities to hold forth on what they think about love and what they desire in a relationship. In that light, Pages From My Dairy becomes a one woman show about love with songs serving as the script instead of monologues.
Margot Blanche is a gifted singer, a creative songwriter, and a talented producer, with a flair for theatricality which make the songs on her CD Pages Of My Diary not only interesting to listen to, but turns the disc into a mini piece of musical theatre. The art of cabaret may not be as dead as I thought after all.