Beth Yeshaya – Far Cry: Live at Studio M

Far Cry: Live at Studio M
Beth Yeshaya
(Danti – 2001)
by John Barrett

Many people make live albums, but rarely like this. Beth Yeshaya hired a radio station in Minnesota and invited 45 guests … giving her an audience and studio-quality sound. The guests were served food and drink in the studio, which lent to a “live” ambience (clinking glasses, etc.) After the vocals were done, some tracks received additional orchestration – making this unusually lush for a live date. All this effort was worth it: Beth has made a strong, emotional album.

“Lush Life” seems happy: an ingénue’s voice mingles with piano and cello. (She then veers into a Lazy Sleeze persona; a little obvious, and I think she overdoes it.) Yawning through the words, Beth feels their weight, hurting until the end – she sings “lonely too” at the top of her range, as if in a moment of clarity. A spooky B-3 whistles through “Angel Eyes”, along with Mark Henderson’s worldly tenor. Beth pleads in the heights, and her voice slides from worry – like she’s on slippery ground. Woodwinds look up to heaven on “A Case of You”; she trips through those wordy lyrics without a care. She’s quiet, so listen closely – it will tickle your brain, as it does for the crowd.

We get two sets of lyrics for “A Night in Tunisia”: the original by Frank Paparelli, followed by Eddie Jefferson’s vocalese rendering. (Beth loves Eddie – she also does his “Come Along with Me”, giggling all the way. “Funny Valentine” is sung simpler than normal, in a child’s voice and innocence (with a few sultry sighs to prove she’s grown up!) Just a piano and a heartbeat bass – everything else is Beth, weeping like a flute or moaning saxlike. Her husband Adi is at the keys, in a classical turn; he sets the mood as much as she does. And “Far Cry” is all Beth’s; she laments against the quietest background. “It’s a dream, more like a memory/When the wind blows your spirit through the trees.” This one will calm you; it’s a cry of sadness, but also peace.

For several tunes Beth welcomes the vocal quartet Vox One, and we steer towards the pop side of things. Sting’s “Brand New Day” gets the old swing treatment: horns frantically surge, while she twiddles the run-on words. The group’s harmonies are sharp (they compare to New York Voices) but are a little slick for my taste. It gets the crowd’s best reaction – and well it should. Dean Magraw’s guitar shines on “Manha de Carnaval”, as Beth sings in English. The orchestra is rich, deep, and woody – she is the same. The quartet adds sheen to “Diamonds on Velvet”, a fine ballad composed by Beth. She’s breathy and fragile, the way some pop singers are; I think I’d prefer something more forceful. Never mind, though: the song is good and its arrangement breathtaking. “Bye Bye Blackbird” borrows the Jon Hendricks chart; Adi’s solo quotes “‘Round Midnight”, and their 11-year old daughter is surprisingly good on the last chorus. (She gets the biggest ovation.) If you need the definition of “labor of love”, this would be it – and I think you’ll love it.