You could be forgiven if you had walked into a room in the middle of any of the songs on Alex Pangman’s latest album, Have a Little Fun, and mistaken what you were hearing for some remastered recording by the likes of an Anita O’Day or even a Sophie Tucker. It’s not just that many of the songs are songs they sang. It’s not just that on many of them she is joined by a guitar virtuoso almost old enough to have been playing back then. It’s not that she’s doing some sort of cheap imitation. This is a singer who clearly loves the music of the swing era and understands how it needs to be sung. She understands how important it is to have a little fun with it.
In some sense, Have a Little Fun is a schizophrenic album. It has the old songs, but it has its share of new material that just sounds old. On some of the songs, Pangman is accompanied by guitar legend Bucky Pizzarelli and violinist Drew Jurecka for a truly vintage sound. On some of the tracks she is accompanied her regular crew, The Alleycats, for a different but no less vintage sound. Then of course there is the singer, a veritable girl in her 30s channeling a singing style of women who were girls when the last century was in its ’30s. And she nails it. If you like the music of the swing era, you will like what Alex Pangman does with it. If you don’t care for it now, listen to the lady and she’s likely to change your mind.
Pizzarelli joins with her on seven of the album’s 13 tracks. They begin with a super rendition of the red hot mama’s classic, “Some of These Days,” and if Pangman is not quite as raw as Madame Tucker, she is plenty saucy. “I’m Confessin’” and “Stardust” are the other well-known tunes they do together. The lesser-known “Out of Nowhere” gets a lovely treatment that suggests it ought to be better known. Pizzarelli also plays on the Pangman originals “Melancholy Lullaby” and “Are You Having Any Fun.” Pangman describes the genesis of “Melancholy Lullaby” in an on-line video. It was written for a movie about a famous Canadian murderer, Evelyn Dick. It is a song that truly captures the vintage swing vibe. It was nominated for “Best Original Song” by the National Jazz Awards in 2001.
She works with The Alleycats on a swinging “Undecided” and their treatment of the Fats Waller tune “The Panic is On” jumps with energy. Their take on “Shanghai Lil” is a sultry gem, with her breathy vocal leading to a dynamite climax aided by Ross Wooldridge’s clarinet accents. Of the Pangman originals they work on—“It Felt So Good to Be So Bad,” “Topsy Turvy” and “The Fog Song”—the last may not be talking about London town, but it has the potential to rival that classic. Laurie Bower contributes the elegant solo work on trombone.
Alex Pangman is often billed as the Canadian Sweetheart of Swing—today Canada’s sweetheart, tomorrow the world’s.