Review: Kate Vikstrom “Grown-up Lullabies”

Kate Vikstrom “Grown-up Lullabies”

08 Nov, 2010 Heath Andrews

It is not often the case that an album’s ability to put one to sleep could actually be considered a good thing.  To Kate Vikstrom and David Rhys-Johnson’s credit, this lovely 14-song collection is perfectly capable of sending someone to the world of dreams.  The debut album for Vikstrom, Grown-up Lullabies, is an elegantly simple concept built primarily around Vikstrom’s voice and Rhys-Johnson’s piano.  All of the songs are covers, generally of old show tunes or light jazz standards, and though the arrangements are incredibly simple Vikstrom’s voice makes this album such a pleasure.

With the exception of a couple tracks featuring saxophone, penny whistle, accordion, or some sort of synthesized percussion, the only instruments here are vocals and piano/keyboards.  Pianist David Rhys-Johnson is the foundation of these songs.  His playing is essentially that of an accompanist, sacrificing complexity, ornamentation, and soloing to allow his vocalist to stand in the limelight.  This is not to marginalize Rhys-Johnson’s role by any means.  A vocalist needs a strong accompanist to succeed, and Vikstrom is in good hands here.

Vikstrom’s voice positively soars over the songs that it graces.  Her pitch, tone, and control are all excellent, and there is a wonderful soothing quality to her voice, perfect for the songs she sings.  Her control is very clear on “One Note Samba”, which, as the title suggests, revolves around a melody line of one note.  Not only does Vikstrom repeatedly strike the note with authority, but also when the song calls for her to quickly ascend the scale, she does so effortlessly.

To select a stand out performance from amongst the songs is difficult.  Vikstrom sings with such consistency that each song is its own delight.  The only sticking point of sorts would be with the song selection.  Even though it’s titled Grown-up Lullabies, finding grown-ups who are familiar with a majority of the featured songs would be a challenge.  Aside from early jazz enthusiasts, lovers of musicals, or people who hang out for extended periods of time among lounge singers, most of the general populous will likely not recognize pieces like “The Waters of March” or “Marble Halls.”  The closest thing to a mainstream song on here is Tom Waits’ “Grapefruit Moon,” which Vikstrom sings beautifully, capturing the emotion, power, and inherent sadness of the lyric.  And of course, Rhys-Johnson plays the gorgeous piano melody excellently.  It would be fantastic to hear her tackle more of Waits catalog, (“Martha” comes to mind as a song she could make her own using her beautiful voice) but we get more Oscar Hammerstein than anything else.

The album closes with a unique medley, which is also partially recognizable.  The medley begins with “If I Had Words”, a song made popular in the UK by Scott Fitzgerald and was also featured in the movie Babe (though that version was performed by James Cromwell and later, a trio of mice).  The song then segues into the Henry Mancini classic, “Moon River”.  Finally, the medley closes with with “When I Grow Too Old To Dream”, a Hammerstein and Sigmund Romberg song, with one of the most notable performances of it being by Linda Ronstadt.  Rhys-Johnson makes the transitions natural, and hearing Vikstrom sing “Moon River” is a delight given her voice.

Kate Vikstrom’s voice is nigh impossible to resist whether she’s singing “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” from Show Boat or “Never Never Land” from Peter Pan.  The simple formula of her vocals soaring over David Rhys-Johnson’s exquisitely played piano is magical.  The beauty of Grown-up Lullabies is enough to lull one into a sound sleep or at the very least, wind down with after a long day.  With a stronger song selection this album would easily be flawless, instead it’s a collection of some suitable songs, performed to perfection.  If you fall asleep to these lullabies it won’t be out of boredom, but out of comfort and bliss.

Review by Heath Andrews
Review Score: 4 Stars (out of 5)