Storm Large is one of those seemingly larger-than-life characters I feel I should have heard of before. The West Coast club and concert diva has been singing with Pink Martini of late, a gig that has transformed her into an accomplished big-band singer. She has performed Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins with full orchestral accompaniment. Her memoir was an Oprah pick. The list goes on.
On her new CD, Le Bonheur, which is also the name of her own band, she brings a ballsy rock-inspired oomph to big-band swing classics (“I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “It’s All Right With Me”). But then she spins around and turns on the Shakira for Black Sabbath’s “N.I.B.” She also dials it down for ballads (“Unchained Melody,” “Saving All My Love for You,” the former a little bland, the latter a surprisingly affecting duet with sad clown/chanteur Puddles Pity Party.
The album is an eclectic collection proving that even with her rough attitudinal edges, Large is an interpreter of the top rank. The vampy blues singer’s work with Pink Martini has “wrangled” this “feral child” (in the words of the San Francisco Examiner) into a versatile performer of diverse material. She’s as convincing moaning Jacques Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (partly in French) – an obvious song choice, but nicely done – as she is smoothly singing Sting’s “Sacred Love” or intoning Black Sabbath.
She marshals her chocolatey voice into a powerful, refreshingly unaffected style that lets her sound natural on this wide variety of song styles and gives the album continuity. Her take on Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” manages to be both calm and glittery as she uncovers the hopefulness tucked away in that classic, giving its final rave-up a triumphant sheen.
Two original ballads by Large show another facet of her talent. “Stand up for Me” is a paean to solidarity, in the style of an Irish pop ballad. “A Woman’s Heart” delves deeply into the mysteries of love: “You can tear her world apart / And never know a woman’s heart.” Aside from everything else, that’s a great couplet, worthy of the classics she has evolved to sing so well.