How to categorize singer Stevie Holland? She represents an amalgamation of various genres: jazz, cabaret, pop, and Broadway musicals. Her warm, deep voice has earned her acclaim in jazz circles, and she continues exploring that world in her latest release, Before Love Has Gone.
Holland specializes in singing more obscure selections from the Great American Songbook, and her latest CD is no exception to this rule. Beginning with Vincent Yourman's “Carioca” (most notable for providing accompaniment to Fred Astaire's and Ginger Rogers' first dance on celluloid in 1933's Flying Down to Rio—see Wikipedia) and continuing with “Here's to Your Illusions,” a Sammy Fain and Yip Harburg composition from 1951's Broadway show Flahooley, it is evident that Holland wishes to pay tribute to lesser-known compositions.
Highlights include her interpretation of “Make Our Garden Grow,” a lovely Richard Wilbur/Leonard Bernstein tune from Candide. Her reading of Irving Berlin's classic “How Deep Is the Ocean,” accompanied only by Martin Bejerano on piano, evokes the unabashed romanticism of the lyrics.
Showing her equal allegiance to pop, she also covers Carly Simon and Jacob Brackman's “Riverboat Gambler,” which seems out of place when compared to the CD's other songs. An obscure Simon track off her 1976 LP Another Passenger, it perfectly suits Holland's lower register and seemingly effortless vocal style. Holland and Simon should collaborate on a project in the future. “I can see through all that debonair style/The irony bending your smile,” Holland croons, but ultimately “I want to stay near you/I want you to win.” Her low voice lends a world-weary aspect to these lyrics, which perfectly fits the overall tone.
Not only focusing on covers, Before Love Has Gone also features two tracks co-written by Holland and her husband/producer Gary William Friedman. One such song, “The Music in Me That Plays,” is a subtle bossa nova number that lets Holland experiment with phrasing. Guitarist Paul Bollenback delivers a particularly outstanding acoustic solo that matches the sensuality of the song.
One criticism of Holland's CD is that she could have varied her song selections more. Most of the tracks are virtually identical in tempo and mood, with the welcome exception of “Daybreak,” a swinging Harold Adamson/Ferde Grofe tune that allows Holland to stretch her vocals, apparently enjoying such optimistic lyrics as “Sunrise, how lovely it seems/To see from my window a sky full of dreams.” More songs such as this would have fully demonstrated her range as a singer and stylist.
Overall, Before Love Has Gone provides the aural equivalent of sitting by the fire with a warm cup of tea. Holland's honey-coated vocals gently lull the listener, complimenting the laid-back mood of the entire CD. Discovering some unfairly overlooked American Songbook tunes is another reason to pick up this album; ideally Holland will draw more attention to these gems. Hopefully she will choose some more varied tracks in future albums to fully illustrate her broad range and excite her audience.