The unstoppable Lea DeLaria, a unique performer whose multi-dimensional identity includes recording artist, stand-up comic, Broadway actress and more, gives the jazz treatement to a diverse selection of rock classics on her new Telarc release, Double Standards. Backed by a stellar cast, DeLaria's Telarc debut delivers surprise after surprise by bringing together songs like Blondie's "Call Me," Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot," Jane's Addiction's "Been Caught Stealing" and The Doors' "People Are Strange" under a single umbrella.
DeLaria's brash and brilliant renditions of hit tracks by these and other rock and pop artists is a convincing demonstration that the criteria for finding great songs knows no boundaries. "We had three rules for selection," she explains. "The cut had to be in the college or alternative rock category, it had to be familiar and, most importantly, it had to swing."
Assisting in the artistic alchemy was an extraordinary line-up of backing musicians, including the rhythm section of Christian McBride (bass) and Bill Stewart (drums); tenor sax master Seamus Blake; ace percussionist Bashiri Johnson; and marimba master Stefon Harris. Pianist and co-producer Gil Goldstein, who arranged the lion's share of the album's ten tracks, plays keyboards and accordion.
"We kept it free and easy," says DeLaria. "There was a lot of room for improvisation. There was a real sense of common creative purpose in the studio. Most everyone was familiar with the original songs and understood instinctively what we were trying to accomplish. One of the thrills of this project, personally speaking, is to imagine the reaction of the original artists when they hear these versions. We've really reinvented this music."
For the multi-talented DeLaria, who first made her mark as one of the few openly gay comics to hit the comedy circuit more than a decade ago, Double Standards represents yet another groundbreaking triumph. However, while her early independent albums, Bulldyke in a China Shop and Box Lunch, are still cult favorites with the laugh crowd, these days you can chalk up DeLaria's massive appeal to her astounding vocal prowess, not just to cultural trailblazing or impeccable comic timing. After covering an amazing stretch of artistic ground—from stand-up comedy to sold-out one-woman shows to critically acclaimed roles on and off Broadway—DeLaria has returned to the spotlight as a singer of the highest magnitude.
Her previous album, Play It Cool, was hailed by the London Times as the Best Jazz Album of 2001. Play It Cool confirmed DeLaria as one of the best jazz singers around. Q magazine claimed "Lea DeLaria is blessed with one of the most beautiful voices around," while Time Out declared "the gal can certainly swing," and the Guardian summed her up as a performer who "talks like a coffee grinder, and sounds like a cross between Ella Fitzgerald and a Broadway diva."
Double Standards does more than simply put a delightful new spin on the alt rock lexicon. It points the way to a bright new future for jazz itself.