Sharing the Joy: Holly Yarbroughs Mister Rogers
Growing up, both of Holly Yarbroughs parents were artists.
This meant that she had an untraditional, nomadic youth. In lieu of the typical
steady friendships, Holly developed a special relationship with music. It was a
source of comfort and inspiration with different songs to soundtrack every mood
After an odyssey which found her singing classical arias and
performing and recording with her folk stalwart father, Glenn Yarbrough
(Baby, The Rain Must Fall 1965) came the desire to discover her own
artistic voice and way.
She found herself in Nashville immersing deeply into the local
jazz scene and participating in jazz workshops.
It was in Nashville among an inspiring and supportive community
that Holly decided to finally record as leader. Keeping with her philosophy
that all music should have elements of intimacy and create an emotional
response Holly chose the music of Fred Mister Rogers for its
inherent joy called forth in the zeitgeist of most peoples childhood
The albums initial description would make it seem a thing
of kitsch or at best an ironic thing for hipsters to put on during a cocktail
party. Not at all, aside from the words to the well known Wont You
Be My Neighbor this is a legitimate album free from all camp. Someone
devoid of knowledge of Mister Rogers music would just think it is a
really good jazz album. An odd starting off point for a project, to be sure,
but one which surprisingly succeeds.
Although this is the music of Fred Rogers, the album is
not meant to teach life lessons. It has been said that a good
singer could sing the phone book and it would sound good. What could in other
peoples hands come across as overly saccharine; works here. Throughout
the album Hollys voice gives off a sexy but fun vibe similar to June
Christy in a good mood.
When the casual music fan thinks of Nashville it conjures up
images of cowboy hats and lap steel players. There is actually a strong
community of musicians who easily jump genres with great understanding of the
various musical terrains upon which they tread.
Nashville is famous for its recording studios and music stores.
Before recording began various vintage mics were tested. This worked to great
advantage for the album, creating a warm ambient sound akin to how the Verve
label late 50s recordings sound. Here you get the best of both worlds;
pristine sound but with that organic feel so often missing in newer recordings.
The core band for the album is the Lori Mechem Trio (piano,
bass, drums) with guest stars on trombone, saxophone, fiddle, trumpet and
cello. Holly met most of the players through the jazz workshop or contacts she
made through them.
Both the sound and interplay of the band further emphasize that
this is no mere two listen then forget album. The band all play
well off each other and with Holly. There is never a forced or phoned in
The album has a unified feel but never at the risk of all the
tracks being selfsame. The album clocks in at a little under an hour. The mark
of a good album, the time passes by quickly. While I enjoyed the entire album,
there were some definite standout moments for me.
The first track, the well known theme song Wont You
Be My Neighbor shows off the fullness of the horns with Richard
Smiths classic sounding hollow body jazz guitar. Here, on Hollys
opening shot she shows that this is no mere hobby for her. It is nice to see
the trend of up and coming singers actually singing, not doing that talk-sing
and not over selling it, the American Idolization of singing. Her
time singing in other genres has given her the ability to create a sort of
intimate, hushed intensity.
Youve Got to Do It has plunged wah-wah horns.
Their joy is perfectly matched by buoyant dancing piano of Lori Mechem. This
album was also one of the last recorded appearances by the popular saxophonist
Boots Randolph. Here he provides a honking blues soaked solo, the ghosts of a
thousand honky tonk juke boxes smiling down with approval.
I Like to be Told adds a sultry component to the
album. Here is Mister Rogers with a martini in his hand, breaking hearts.
Without overacting or burying the original intent the song is subtly changed in
Hollys hands. There is a laconic blues, the piano softly tinkling in the
spirit of the best saloon songs.
Sometimes People Are Good starts off with a duet
between Roger Spencers brightly colored bass and Chris Browns
snappy brushwork. There is a great guitar break which embraces aspects of
country swing and Charlie Christian. This track best illustrates the
albums over all theme of cheer. Happiness without the faintest whiff
of cheese. Even though it is a trio with guest stars added there is a
cohesiveness to the interplay among the musicians that allows for no short cuts
to have to be taken in arrangements or improvisations.
Its You I Like begins with a wistful piano and
hushed vocals. It comes across as a torch song without being bogged down in
lack of subtlety. Being just piano and vocals, it shows the trueness of not
only the talent to be found on this album but the fullness of sound. The pacing
is spot on leaving no sonic holes for the listeners attention to fall
Sound aside another distinguishing thing about this album is the
packaging. Instead of going with a diamond case and glamour shot cover photo
there is a well constructed cardboard triple gate case, the center panel of
which holds the CD. It has that vintage album cover look to it and is very well
made. Each CD case is numbered with no liner notes but a postcard reproducing
the album art work.
When Day Turns To Night is a light samba with George
Tidwells muted trumpet meshing with Hollys sustained vocals. In
keeping with the samba spirit the song is lightly peppered with some acoustic
guitar which practically makes one feel the beach sand under feet. Both the
lyrics and arrangement of the piece give it a sort of timeless feel, it sounds
as if it is a standard.
The album over all is happy but manages to switch emotional
gears; although always within the realm of the positive. When called for,
Hollys vocals have a romanticism without an overly burning immediacy
which would effect the delightful organic sense of tension. The slow smolder
makes Hollys magic all the more potent.
Jazz has commercially become marginalized. Long ago rock
replaced it as the music of youth and rebellion. And now even with rock, things
aint what they used to be. The budgets and attention go to pop
confections which have little more importance or staying power than that of
flavor of the month. The bottom line has largely won out. Anyone thinking
outside the box must release their works independently or play the game. An
advantage of Hollys first project being so left of field is that she
prevents any kind of artistic/stylistic branding or pigeon holing. With
interviews and promotional materials she will not be forced into a role by some
marketing department, adopting a persona Earth mother, The
Bluesy one et al. There was also great foresight in not trying to promote
the album as a quirky thing as it is a true thing of beauty merely birthed from
a quirky idea. This album allows one to visit an old childhood friend in a new
Mister Rogers Swings (Vintage Disc)