Album Review: A Ghost In Every Bar

Sandy Brown Jazz

Ian Maud, September 2012

It's funny. Singer Ian Shaw has had a number of previously acclaimed albums but they have not quite managed to float my boat – until now. His latest release, A Ghost In Every Bar, has to be one of my favourite albums of this year. I find this tribute to the work of lyricist Fran Landesman beautifully sung and expertly interpreted. This is an album that deserves to be not just tasted but savoured slowly.

The accompaniment by pianist Simon Wallace, who collaborated with Landesman in writing many of the songs on this album, is also just right. Ian Shaw himself plays piano on three tracks and the last track, the classic Ballad Of The Sad Young Men, has the additional treat of Sue Richardson's mellow and poignant flugelhorn.

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His choice of Fran Landesman's work for his latest album is partly inspired by his friendship with Fran who died last year, but he has been including her songs in his performances and albums for some time.

Fran Landesman's lyrics are sharp and full of insight, and one wonders why they are not more widely recognised as standards. Take Small Day Tomorrow:

I don't have to go to bed
I've got a small day tomorrow.
I don't have to use my head
I've got a small day tomorrow…

Or from Ballad Of The Sad Young Men:

Sing a song of sad young men
Glasses full of rye
All the news is bad again
Kiss your dreams goodbye…

Fran Landesman was born Frances Deitsch in New York City in 1927. She initially worked in the fashion industry, married journalist Jay Landesman and together they moved to St Louis, Missouri where Jay and his brother Fred opened the Crystal Palace nightclub.

Fran began writing lyrics to songs in 1952 and Tommy Wolf, the pianist at the Crystal Palace set her lyrics to music. They wrote music for two musicals and by 1960 they had hits with Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most and The Ballad Of The Sad Young Men.

In 1960 Fran began working with singer/pianist and composer Bob Dorough and their song Nothing Like You was recorded by Miles Davis for his 1967 album Sorcerer. Another of their songs Small Day Tomorrow has been recorded by many singers.

In 1964 the Landesmans moved to London where Fran continued to write lyrics and also to publish her poetry, and then, in 1994, she teamed up with British composer Simon Wallace to write some three hundred songs. She appeared on the BBC radio show Desert Island Discs in 1996 and caused something of a sensation when she requested a supply of cannabis seeds as her luxury item! Fran Landesman continued to perform her poetry and sing her songs until she died on 23 July last year.

A Ghost In Every Bar is an impressive tribute to Fran Landesman by Ian Shaw. If it is not nominated for awards this year I shall be very surprised. A Ghost In Every Bar was released by Splash Point Records on 6th August 2012… Ian Shaw will be touring in the autumn and into 2013, so catch him live if you can.