"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
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,"
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,"
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."
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
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.