A few years ago, I went through a serious Exotica phase. Fueled by a show ("Martinis With Mancini") on a local college radio station, my CD player (and more often, my turntable) was spinning everything from Esquivel to Mancini to Latin versions of the music from Hair.
That fine radio show may have vanished but my interest in Exotica still burns. Some may consider the music too "jokey," too riddled with kitsch. Well, there's no arguing against taste. Still, what attracted me to the genre was the high degree of melody and a willingness to cross (and sometimes violate) boundaries.
Subtitled "Tunes & Tales About Cool Cats," vocalist and poet Lisa B. has put together a collection of songs that explore not only the nature of the cat, but also many feline-oriented ideas: contentment, home, and the obvious contrasts inherent in the feline spirit.
Because of my cruising-for-Exotica stint, I'm most obviously excited about the title track, a nice version of the song made famous by Tom Jones. It seems a little odd (fun though) to hear a woman sing a tune so closely associated with the classic in-concert panty fling (that danged Jones, he leads a charmed life). OK, maybe it's just fun. Another left turn is made with a ballad-ized take on Graham Nash's "Our House."
Bringing in her background as a poet, Lisa B. makes some unusual moves. One that really pays off is the layering of her spoken word "The Cat Goddess" on top of the Cole Porter standard "Night and Day." This is exactly why the album works. The tunes are not just interpreted but placed in entirely different contexts.
What's New Pussycat? also contains several original selections including the sexy "Slay Me (My Young Cat)," "The Home Inside" (which reminds me of Joni Mitchell at her jazziest), the Latin shuffle of "Kitty-Cat Cha Cha (Cha Cha de la Gatita)" (note: I just love typing that title!), and the spoken word "Warrior Cat." Who knew that cats had a political side?
The program ends with the poignant lullaby of "When Malika Sleeps," written for Lisa B.'s cat, who died not long before the What's New Pussycat? recording session began. Lisa describes this as dealing with "the slippery slope between life and death that we creatures all must face." True enough. I must say, that little "meow" and purr at the end is very nice.
What's New Pussycat? doesn't rise to the weirdness level of, say, an Esquivel simultaneous double-orchestra recording. It does though, take several seeming opposing ideas and musical motifs and fling them against each other. The result might not rock your world but it'll easily put a smile on your face.