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Gigi MacKenzie

"A horse is a horse of course, of course. And no one can talk to a horse of course - that is of course unless the horse is the famous Mister Ed. Go right to the source and ask the horse - he'll give you the answer that you endorse. He's always on a standing course - talk to Mister Ed!" 
Those were the words to the theme song of the popular 1960's television show Mr. Ed that was delighting fans about the same time as Gisele MacKenzie was leaving listeners in awe with her stunning vocal performances. It is only fitting then that almost a half century later MacKenzie's daughter Gigi is delivering emotionally evocative lyrics, vocals and instrumentals and On Easy Street, her Tennessee Walking Horse, played a key role in the creation of her debut solo album  Skylark
Gisele MacKenzie passed away after a yearlong battle with cancer in 2003, without having the opportunity to sing a recorded duet with her daughter Gigi, Through producer Carlos Riosí technical wizardry however the two were united for the song "Stranger In Paradise," a song that charted for Gisele MacKenzie following her 1955 blockbuster hit "Hard To Get."  
After her mother passed away, Gigi signed a record deal with Morpheus Music and pitched the idea of recording the mother-daughter duet. With the help of friends, she began a search for the masters of Gisele's songs in such places as the archives of Capitol Records and BMG but she came up empty handed. 
"I was so depressed but my friend Carlos (Rios) said, 'I can do it if you just tell me you want me to do it.' You could have knocked me over with a feather. He told me to get a track and bring it to his house. I found "Stranger In Paradise." She (her mother) used to sing that to me a lot when I was a child. About a month later, Carlos called to say, 'How would you like to come over and sing with your mother tonight.' He got the equipment hooked up and when I heard her sing I was supposed to join in but I just sobbed. I was so happy but ruined inside. It took me eight tries before I could do it," recalled MacKenzie.  
MacKenzie was her own producer on Skylark and collaborated with Bobby Zee and Llew Matthews to write the arrangements.  "Being a producer was very frightening to me because I thought I was going to fall on my face as I had never done this before.  I suddenly realized that having someone over you (as producer) telling you what to do is so much easier because you can rag on them and say I hate my producer, blah, blah, blah. When all that was pushed away, I suddenly realized how hard it is to stand up on your own two feet and realize everyone relies on you. All of a sudden I was responsible," commented MacKenzie concerning her debut as a producer. 
Wearing the producer's hat also gave MacKenzie the freedom to explore creative ideas that had been incubating while listening to songs in the past. "That was the best thing for me because I didn't want to do them like Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney. I wanted to bring my own vision of a young person steeped in R&B. I wanted these songs to come alive for my generation," she said. 
This is where the beautiful horse (On Easy Street) that adorns the cover of her album enters in. When she needed to retreat from the recording sessions MacKenzie would go looking for her horse. "While I was saddling up I would say to my trainer, 'I have no idea how I am going to do this song, "Shadow of Your Smile" or "Blue Moon." She would tell me to get on my horse. When I came back I would say, 'I know, I have it.' That is how the whole record went," said MacKenzie. 
She spoke affectionately about her horse, "She has been incredible as far as letting me go as an artist. I am on this magnificent animal, go to the hills, walk around and sing to her. That is how this album came about and (why I wanted) to put her on the cover." 
MacKenzie's Skylark clearly demonstrates that not only is she an outstanding musician and singer but she possesses great instincts as a producer. Her creative touch is evident on many songs including the tenth track "Blue Moon" which rolls out with a lighter, dreamier interpretation than you have likely previously heard.  As MacKenzie breathes new life into the lyrics, she is backed by the gorgeous vocals of Carmen Carter, Angie Jareé, Carlos Rios and Terry Wood while flautist Robert Kyle adds an airy accompaniment.   
George and Ira Gershwin's "Embraceable You" finds a comfortable home in MacKenzie's smooth romantic vocals, as they are silhouetted beautifully by Carter, Jareé, Rios and Wood. The music is set to Steve Lawrence's arrangement. 
Sax man Robert Kyle's tear-soaked notes communicate sadness and despair as MacKenzie laments the words to "Good Morning Heartache," "I've got those Monday blues/Straight to Sunday blues/Good morning heartache/Here we go again." She said, "The moment he started to play it was exactly what I had been hearing in my head." 
MacKenzie is a gifted instrumentalist having mastered the drums, percussion and guitar while being proficient on the mandolin and keys. "I think my knowledge of drums and percussion as well as what they can do for a song as far as changing the flavor was a (big help). I could hear the drum groove and piano going on in my head as far as taking "Embraceable You" from the way that it had been done before to making it sexy and mysterious. It was the same thing with "The Shadow of Your Smile" and "Come Rain or Come Shine."  The groove is everything and being a drummer, I start from there. I feel these great grooves and that is where the ideas came from," said MacKenzie before adding as she laughed, "And the horse of course. We can't forget the horse."  
The freedom to bring her own readings and creativity to songs like "Blue Moon" and "Embraceable You" motivated her to sign with Morpheus Music and spurn previous offers where the label and or producers wanted to change her approach to music. Singing R&B flavored tunes with big soulful notes comes easily to MacKenzie and often producers wanted to turn her into a Mariah Carey clone. MacKenzie pushed back and resisted the temptation to sign on with other labels. Her current record deal gave the singer the ability to put her stamp on the music we hear on Skylark. 
Gigi MacKenzie has received high marks as a musician and singer from those she has toured with including, David Crosby, Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, Karla Bonoff and Christopher Cross.  Cross appears on  Skylark singing the duet "That's All" with MacKenzie.
"Your ear, the way you can sing, the way that you phrase and get the romance out of the tune is a very sophisticated thing with jazz," said MacKenzie.  Sophisticated is probably the best word to use in describing the music found on  Skylark. MacKenzie built upon on a foundation of music composed by the likes of Stephen Sondheim, Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, George and Ira Gershwin, mixed in an original co-write ("Let's Make a Go of It") and then added a fabulous group of musicians. If Skylark were a girl, I would take her out on a second date! In speaking with Gigi MacKenzie and listening to this album, you get the impression she is thinking, 'Just wait until you see what is coming next baby!' 
By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved

Joe Montague is an internationally published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18. All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague. 


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