The Dimming of the Day, the debut album of actress/singer Anastasia Barzee, reminds me of nothing so much as John Keats’ “Ode on Melancholy.” Keats, a poet who believed that all emotions should be experienced as strongly as possible, explained that melancholy should be savored. Don’t try to drown it with clichés. Don’t try to make yourself feel better. When sadness comes, as it always does, revel in it. Only the person who has experienced the depths of true melancholy has a palate fine enough to burst “joy’s grape.” And where is the truest melancholy to be found? It is to be found in the transience of beauty, in the transience of love.
Speaking about her album, Barzee explains that she has a “real connection to songs that have moved me—made me think about loss, regret, abandonment, and ultimately finding joy.” These are songs that “tell the story of what love really is—with all its pain and promise.” They are songs that speak to the intensity of melancholy and the depth of joy that must inevitably come. It is almost as if the singer were channeling the poet.
The thirteen songs she has chosen range from Broadway to pop, from contemporary folk to jazz and country, and from an eclectic mix of contemporary song writers (Richard Thompson, Jimmy Webb, Kate Bush, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Paul Simon, just to name a few). Her interpretations are emotionally charged; she is, after all, an actress of note. She knows how to use the kind of subtext that creates dramatic sincerity without going over the top. She is a singer in control of her instrument and she demonstrates that control on each and every song.
Of course there are those songs that stand out. such as her duet with Brian D’arcy James, with whom she co-starred in White Christmas, on the album’s title song. Their voices on Thompson’s “The Dimming of the Day” echo with some very nice country harmonies; they have a blend that even Linda and Richard Thompson might envy. She also captures a nice country vibe in Randy Newman’s “Feels Like Home” and adds a powerful performance of Jimmy Webb’s “All I Know.”
Her swinging jazzy take on April Smith’s “Terrible Things,” featuring a sparkling trumpet solo work by Greg Gisbert, is one of the few upbeat tunes on the disc, showing another side of the singer. “Summer Me, Winter Me” has a soft Latin beat and features some fine solo saxophone from Steve Wilson. She does her own version of a sultry cabaret singer with the jazz standard “Don’t Go to Strangers,” again with some nice saxophone backing. James Shelton’s “Lilac Wine” gives Barzee a chance to play with a bit of tipsy sexuality that clearly shows her ability to create a character. All you have to do is compare this voice with the voice that sings the album’s opening song, Kate Bush’s “The Man With the Child in His Eyes,” and you can see how adept Barzee is at singing in “so many voices not her own.”
Keats is right, paradoxical as it seems, that joy and melancholy are indelibly entwined. There is no doubt a great pleasure and joy in listening to a talented artist pouring her heart out in song. Anastasia Barzee is just such a talented artist.