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Stephen McCarthy - Call Me Irresponsible Rating: 2 out of 5 Much to admire, especially the experimental tracks

Following Robbie Williams’ attempts at swing and the enormous commercial success of Jamie Cullum, male jazz singers are no longer an endangered species and are becoming increasingly thick on the ground.

Stephen McCarthy, born in South Wales but now resident in Surrey, offers something different to the cod crooning of Williams and the squeaky cleanness of Cullum. McCarthy has a rich, warm, well-rounded baritone voice which adds a certain gravitas to his singing.

The material he has selected for this album is a mix of jazz standards and more modern pop songs. He is not afraid to experiment with the songs altering both their moods and contexts. Sometimes this succeeds brilliantly as on Lerner and Loewe’s “Wouldn’t It Be Lovely”. Usually insufferably perky this song takes on a wistful and melancholy hue in McCarthy’s hands and is all the better for it. Similarly a world weary jazz take on Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” is equally effective, but an attempt at a swing version of The Beatles “Penny Lane” is an embarrassing failure.

It would be fair to say that McCarthy is most effective on the slower, more reflective pieces. A fusion of “A Foggy Day / Lucky To Be Me” works beautifully as do ballads such as “Alone Together” and “Not Like This”. On high tempo tunes such as “Please Be Kind” and the title track he can sometimes sound too clichéd and “show-bizzy”.

McCarthy is lucky to have a crack band working with him. Pianist Steve Hill has a sure touch at the keyboard and is responsible for the album’s imaginative arrangements. Former NYJO drum tyro Chris Dagley is probably the best known of the sidemen as he also occupies the drum chair in the band of high profile vocalist Clare Teal. Dagley plays well throughout the record and is particularly dynamic on the up tempo tunes. Bassist Frazer Snell offers him sterling support.

Another former NYJO alumnus saxophonist Adrian Revell nearly steals the instrumental honours with several fine solos. His smoky tenor adds greatly to the atmosphere of “Still Crazy” and his swinging alto adds much to the albums high tempo opener “Please Be Kind”.

BBC presenter Richard Niles provides the albums liner notes but also appears on one cut as an instrumentalist. His relaxed conversational guitar contributes much to the success of “Wouldn’t It Be Lovely”. I for one wasn’t aware that Niles was such a talented guy.

This is not really an album to my personal tastes. However, there is much to admire here in respect of the singing, playing and arrangements. The most successful tracks are by and large the more experimental ones where McCarthy and Hill really stretch their imaginations.

In the current jazz climate the album has sold very well and McCarthy should have a successful career ahead of him. If you are a fan of vocal jazz you should find plenty to enjoy on this album.

Call Me Irresponsible

Stephen McCarthy

Monday, June 26, 2006

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

2 out of 5

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Much to admire, especially the experimental tracks

Following Robbie Williams’ attempts at swing and the enormous commercial success of Jamie Cullum, male jazz singers are no longer an endangered species and are becoming increasingly thick on the ground.

Stephen McCarthy, born in South Wales but now resident in Surrey, offers something different to the cod crooning of Williams and the squeaky cleanness of Cullum. McCarthy has a rich, warm, well-rounded baritone voice which adds a certain gravitas to his singing.

The material he has selected for this album is a mix of jazz standards and more modern pop songs. He is not afraid to experiment with the songs altering both their moods and contexts. Sometimes this succeeds brilliantly as on Lerner and Loewe’s “Wouldn’t It Be Lovely”. Usually insufferably perky this song takes on a wistful and melancholy hue in McCarthy’s hands and is all the better for it. Similarly a world weary jazz take on Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” is equally effective, but an attempt at a swing version of The Beatles “Penny Lane” is an embarrassing failure.

It would be fair to say that McCarthy is most effective on the slower, more reflective pieces. A fusion of “A Foggy Day / Lucky To Be Me” works beautifully as do ballads such as “Alone Together” and “Not Like This”. On high tempo tunes such as “Please Be Kind” and the title track he can sometimes sound too clichéd and “show-bizzy”.

McCarthy is lucky to have a crack band working with him. Pianist Steve Hill has a sure touch at the keyboard and is responsible for the album’s imaginative arrangements. Former NYJO drum tyro Chris Dagley is probably the best known of the sidemen as he also occupies the drum chair in the band of high profile vocalist Clare Teal. Dagley plays well throughout the record and is particularly dynamic on the up tempo tunes. Bassist Frazer Snell offers him sterling support.

Another former NYJO alumnus saxophonist Adrian Revell nearly steals the instrumental honours with several fine solos. His smoky tenor adds greatly to the atmosphere of “Still Crazy” and his swinging alto adds much to the albums high tempo opener “Please Be Kind”.

BBC presenter Richard Niles provides the albums liner notes but also appears on one cut as an instrumentalist. His relaxed conversational guitar contributes much to the success of “Wouldn’t It Be Lovely”. I for one wasn’t aware that Niles was such a talented guy.

This is not really an album to my personal tastes. However, there is much to admire here in respect of the singing, playing and arrangements. The most successful tracks are by and large the more experimental ones where McCarthy and Hill really stretch their imaginations.

In the current jazz climate the album has sold very well and McCarthy should have a successful career ahead of him. If you are a fan of vocal jazz you should find plenty to enjoy on this album.


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