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Marion Maerz - Burt Bacharach Songbook

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Artist: Marion Maerz

Album: Burt Bacharach Songbook

Label: Bureau B

Review date: Feb. 16, 2009

Marion Maerz was a mid-1960s teen pop star in Europe. Known then as simply "Marion," she hit the big time with "Er Ist Weider Da" ("I Go To Sleep"), written for her by Ray Davies. In 1970, under her full name, she teamed with arranger and jazzer Ingfried Hoffman to record a German collection of Burt Bacharach songs. The album flopped, but it became an admired and revered collector’s item during the decades since.

It takes a singer of grace, skill and substance to do justice to the melodic/intervallic complexity, the subtleties of syncopation, the emotional sophistication of a Bacharach song. Maerz proved herself up to the task, bringing a dramatic and theatrical approach to songs more famously clothed in the cool pop/soul styles of Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield.

With a voice that blends an alluring dark warmth with an inviting timbral clarity, Maerz has full command of line and breath, pitch and phrasing. She can go from an intimate Bossa Nova whisper to a full-on stage show wail. In this, she seems goaded at times by the sometimes over-the-top dynamic range of Hoffman’s arrangements: splashy section work for horns and strings; a jazzy and tight rhythm section; a period-specific plethora of keyboard colors, all recorded with the lush warmth you might expect from studios no doubt well-stocked with the finest legendary German microphones.

The arrangements and vocals taken together often evince a strange, dreamlike quality, keeping, to a note, the hooks and riffs of the original American hits while reinventing them completely in mood and attitude. "Close to You," for instance, trades the burnished warmth of the Carpenters’ version for something a touch more ecstatic, the Bossa-esque qualities of the rhythm and syncopation joining with the breathy vocal to communicate a sense of passion and intimacy. "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" is bizarre, perhaps even expressionist: the happy-go-lucky existential irony of the song is delivered with touches of Brecht-Weill, cabaret, and sprechstimme.

Listeners with low tolerance for big, cheesy arrangements and schlager dramatics might give this album a quick listen and walk on by. But those who come back for more might get to know a compelling singer and a record that is, at the very least, quite unlike anything they’ve heard before.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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