When American jazz came to Europe in the 1920s it inspired a new form of nightclub performance. Cabaret was a mixture of live theatre, burlesque, and musical revue with featured vocalists. If you've ever seen The Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich or Cabaret with Liza Minelli, you have a good idea of the kind of cabaret performances seen during the period. Those who sang in cabarets were encouraged to sing in as suggestive a manner as possible, drawing on the inherent sensuality in jazz and blues.
Perhaps because cabaret performances were driven in part by the desperation of the times – an attempt to cram as much fun as possible into the short period of time before the inevitable war – they mostly did not survive World War II. After the war, with all the competition for the entertainment dollar and the advent of accessible home entertainment, fewer were willing to take the financial risk involved in mounting such lavish entertainment. The closest thing that we have today is the plastic sexuality of the Las Vegas show.
Another reason for the demise of cabaret has been the compartmentalization of popular music, leaving fewer performers with the skill to perform the variety of music required of a cabaret singer. There aren't many performers who have the ability to sing the styles of music required and have the ability to put on a good show. That doesn't mean there aren't any out there though, and if her newest self-produced and distributed release, Pages In My Diary, is anything to go by, Margot Blanche not only has the ability to sing in a variety of styles, she appears to have the required panache on the showmanship side as well.
Judging by the images included in the liner notes, she has created a persona modeled after Varga girls and other classic pin up images from the 1940s. The twelve tracks included on the disc, all of which she has at least co-authored, contain elements reminiscent of that era alongside more contemporary stylings. She has even gone so far on some tracks as to recreate the thin compressed sound of an old mono tube radio to help craft an authentic atmosphere.
If that weren't enough for us to get the idea of what she was trying to accomplish, some songs incorporate samples of artists including Bessie Smith, Cab Calloway, and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Lest you think she is merely recreating the past, however, her songs also contain elements of hip hop, soul, and R&B and occasional samples of more contemporary performers including Isaac Hayes and the Meters. While this may be starting to sound like a hideous, confusing pastiche, one has to take into account Blanche's skill as a performer and a composer.
Not only is she gifted with a voice with the range to work comfortably well beyond a single octave, her voice has an exceptional amount of character and the versatility to handle any of the styles she attempts. From the hard-edged, street smart voice required for the hip-hop/rap flavored title track to the teasing sounds of "Material Love" and the genuine soulfulness of "Beautiful Soul," she is able to accommodate all the styles she attempts with a natural ease.
Where many people who attempt multiple styles of music within one recording come across as unconvincing or insincere, Margot Blanche is able to carry them all off with equal aplomb and does so sounding like she was born to sing each particular genre. While in part this is due to her ability as a vocalist, it's also a tribute to her talents as a performer. Instead of merely assuming an attitude that would be appropriate for a song, she goes a lot deeper and creates a character who fits the expression of the material.
Of course that makes a lot of sense once you understand that Pages Of My Diary is not merely a collection of love songs. Think of it as a collection of diary entries, each of which are a reflection of the different approaches one person could take to the thorny and complicated subject of love. It's as if Margot has opened the pages of a diary where she's allowed different personalities to hold forth on what they think about love and what they desire in a relationship. In that light, Pages From My Dairy becomes a one woman show about love with songs serving as the script instead of monologues.
Margot Blanche is a gifted singer, a creative songwriter, and a talented producer with a flair for theatricality which make the songs on Pages Of My Diary not only interesting to listen to but turns the album into a mini piece of musical theatre. The art of cabaret may not be as dead as I thought after all.