Like everyone says, it’s a baby voice. Not surprisingly, most of us now balding Gen X’ers grew up with Blossom Dearie telling us what we could do with the number eight and exactly where we could stick our conjunctions in friend Bobby Dorough’s songs for Schoolhouse Rock. Contrastingly, most of Dearie’s own music concerns itself with multiplication of a different sort. That’s the primary attraction, this preadolescent charm superimposed on top of a distinctly adult agenda.
Thus even before one can get into a specific song, it’s established that a 70-minute set with her will be rife with mysteries and revelations. Dearie, who finishes her summer at Danny’s on West 46th Street at the end of September, never gives you the whole story at once. Like that famous existentialist essay about the art of striptease, Dearie’s brand of storytelling is all about giving up secrets slowly and reluctantly.
That’s true whether she’s going for laughs, as on “Someone’s Been Sending Me Flowers” (on 1996’s Our Favorite Songs), or for something deeper, as on “Bye-Bye Country Boy” (heard in a superior, slower version on her 18th and latest self-produced CD, Blossom’s Planet), both of which are in her current tunestack. Jack Segal’s lyric to “Country Boy” describes the end of a weeklong romance between a peripatetic chick singer and a local yokel she meets on the road; the irony arrives in the form of what she tells us but doesn’t tell him, that she’d be willing to chuck the whole showbiz deal and settle down in Nowheresville if only he had chutzpah enough to ask. The professional woman who seems steely and flip on the exterior has a sentimental streak as big as New Jersey underneath. Sheldon Harnick’s “Flowers” is just the opposite, as what starts out sweet and tender soon turns out to be savagely goofy—we’re first led to believe a romantic young swain is sending her flowers, and we only gradually learn that she’s in fact being harassed by a wack job who hurls horticulture in various decrepit forms more like a weapon than a token of affection, such as a rock garden, which arrives “one rock at a time.” Like much of her music, both songs are about stripping away layers of facade to get at the truth.
Dearie, who sounds like she’s whispering even when she’s talking full voice, excels at standards like the classic show tunes contained on the soon-to-be-reissued 1959 album Blossom Dearie Sings Comden and Green, yet she’s also a boon to currently active writers. It only takes about two measures of Dave Frishberg’s “I’m Hip” before we learn the self-proclaimed hipster protagonist is anything but; likewise she reconstructs Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch” into a ringing indictment of the concept of fashionable “with-it-ness.” What’s more, she finds mysteries to explore even where there apparently are none—she’s not deceiving herself that the “Lies of Handsome Men” are anything other than that, yet we’re instantly hooked and want to stick with her to find out why, knowing that she insists on believing them. We become determined to follow her trail wherever it leads, much as we do with every Blossom Dearie song.