CD Review: HOTEL AMOUR (Meow Meow and Thomas Lauderdale)

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by Tony Frankel on April 20, 2019



Welcome to the definition of “chanteuse.” The slinky, sexy, performance artist Meow Meow — whose new CD with Pink Martini’s leader and pianist Thomas Lauderdale is instantly classy, lovable, moving, funny, accessible, transportive, and timeless — gives what feels like your own private deliriously fun nightclub act. Hotel Amour takes us on a trip around the world as seen through the lens of classic mid-twentieth-century cabaret arrangements — from Weimar to Moulin Rouge. A few standards are given the royal Lauderdale treatment with guest artists, but the real surprise is that his new chansons written with Meow Meow (the Australian actress Melissa Madden Gray) are just as magnificent as the other seven.

Vocally, this foxy feline consistently personalizes every song, superbly interpreting the lyric, and always sings to us, never at us. Rare is the performer who can connect with a listener on a recording, whether she is broad or intimate. Sure, she can be comic and campy, but some of her most powerful and impactful moments occur during her intimate, low-key songs, during which she displays true authenticity and depth.

With the title track, she proffers her own lyrics concerning a Miss Lonelyhearts, sung with regret and a boozy haze; Lauderdale’s Jacques Brel-like, slow, sad waltz and lush strings fit the lyrics beautifully. The bluesy “I Lost Myself (I’m hungry… and that ain’t right)” conjures up an image of a smoke-filled room where Meow Meow slumps in a wooden chair, cigarette dangling from her mouth. Aided by Kyle Mustain’s English horn, the French lyrics of “Mon homme marié (My Married Man)” are given a sad strain that could be a salute to Juliette Gréco yet it’s not derivative — I see our drenched heroine wandering aimlessly looking for her guy on a rainy Paris street. The spooky “Die blaue Stunde (The Blue Hour)” — sung in German on one track and instrumental on another —  made me think of Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel.

But these last two epitomize my one issue with this transcendent album: it’s just over 35 minutes, and two tracks are just over a minute. Really? I know this CD was recorded over many years in many cities, but I’ve seen Meow Meow and Lauderdale in concert when they sang even more terrific originals — ones which didn’t make the cut here for some reason. Just as we are taken away to a world long gone, the album stops. It’s simply too short.

But no one can argue with the century-spanning repertoire or the consummate artists that join our intrepid hostess, including Rufus Wainwright on Michael Emer’s “À quoi ça sert l’amour (What’s the Point of Love),” and the late Michel Legrand playing piano on his own “Sans toi” (Without You)”; with lyrics by Agnès Varda from her 1962 film Cléo de cinq à sept, it evokes the entire French New Wave; Meow Meow’s accent is flawless, her soul tortured, and her spirit stunningly saturated. I swear she is this generation’s Édith Piaf (or was Piaf that generation’s Meow Meow?).

And what ballads! You’ll flip over “Bonjour Tristesse” (music by Georges Auric, and English lyrics by Arthur Laurents, book-writer of Gypsy and West Side Story), Cole Porter’s “True Love,” and most movingly “Hi Lili, Hi Lo” with glorious harmonies by the stunning von Trapps (a group I have a bone to pick with, given they’re retiring from live concerts).

For sheer fun, my favorite track comes courtesy of guest Barry Humphries, sounding less like his Dame Edna and more like Bruce the Shark in Finding Nemo on old-time radio; with “Mausi, süß warst Du heute Nacht (Mousie, How Sweet You Were Tonight)” from the 1930 operetta Viktoria und ihr Husar, decadence never sounded so right.

Meow Meow reigns supreme. This cat definitely knows how to carry a torch.

Hotel Amour
Meow Meow, vocals; Thomas Lauderdale, piano and arranger
Invisible Hands Music
12 tracks | 35:17 | released on March 29, 2019
available on Meow Meow, Amazon and iTunes

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