I Know You by Heart – Lee Lessack

Review of San Francisco appearance with Joan Ryan

Lee Lessack has been one of the US’ most successful cabaret performers for some years and his second solo CD amply demonstrates just how he has maintained this position. Lessack’s voice is light, sensitive and possess a quality of sweetly romantic yearning. Never effortful, he nonetheless sings with great and genuine emotion on a collection of ballads which, though familiar, he presents with such disarming sincerity that one finds oneself really listening to the lyrics, often as though for the first time. It is, of course, the job of any performer to bring something new to familiar material but Lessack never takes the easy route of introducing inappropriate drama or vocal gymnastics to disguise a lack of real thought. Indeed, it is almost surprising to hear how very little he departs from the written melody line while managing to make each song sound fresh.

Interestingly, much of the material he has selected for the recording is contemporary and, with the exception of Right As The Rain, it largely eschews the standard repertoire. Which is not to say that the songs are inferior – far from it. He includes numbers by some of the greatest contemporary songwriters including John Bucchino and Ann Hampton Callaway as well as less familiar pieces by the likes of Stephen Schwartz and Marvin Hamlisch.

Lessack’s voice and delivery are perfect for quietly introspective numbers like Bucchino’s It Feels Like Home and Jimmy Webb’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. He also rises to the challenge of the deceptively tricky melodies of Frank Wildhorn’s Storybook and Stephen Schwartz’s Dreamscape. He is joined by Brian Lane Green and John Boswell for a truly gorgeous version of Schmidt and Jones’ I Can See It on which all three voices combine to drive the tune forward toward a quite breathtaking climax. The combination of Right As Rain with another Fantasticks number, Soon It’s Gonna Rain, is typical of the album as a whole in it’s combination of direct simplicity of

interpretation and obvious affection for the material.

John Boswell’s sensitive arrangements are some of the most lovely to be heard on recent cabaret recordings. Supportive of the singer yet lushly beautiful on their own terms, they are also fine examples of how keyboards can be used to ‘flesh out’ small band arrangements without depriving them of a sense of warmth and intimacy.

The album’s finale, Ann Hampton Callaway’s Perfect says it all. This is indeed the perfect album for romantic souls everywhere. Highly recommended.

– Mark Jennett