Vocalist, harpist, and degree holder from the Yale School of Music and The Juilliard School, Margaret Davis is an ideal example of “feel” and technique co-existing at equal measure within an artist. Harp-centered original arrangements of jazz standards define much of her work and her talent for recasting iconic songs in new sonic molds garnered her plum appearances at respected Northeast venues. Her forays into popular song, however, never come at the expense of her love for classical music and the genre’s wont for tidy structure enhances her performance of “Too Marvelous for Words”. She is, likewise, a founding member of the indie band Astoria Window, an outfit coupling strong electronic influences with her harp’s acoustic sound.
Davis is joined by trumpeter Jonathan Shadle and he provides colorful and understated accompaniment for Davis’ vocal and harp playing. Mo seasoned music devotee will fault anyone who finds harp to be an outside the box instrument for this style of music but even a single play of this track will illustrate, for those unfamiliar with Davis’ music, how appropriate the instrument is for the genre. Her harp occupies sonic territory otherwise taken up with keys and she proves adept with weaving affecting and tasteful melodies.
She remains faithful to the original while re-imagining the track for modern audiences. She brings something of herself to the track as well – it is difficult, if not impossible, to miss the playfulness and affection in her voice. Davis’ vocals are definitely at home working in the upper registers of her voice, but she likewise manages incorporating smoky allure in her performance. It isn’t a cheap effect. Davis embodies such qualities with singular style rather than pandering to her audience.
She communicates the same in her visual presentation. The video for the song shares the track’s directness and simplicity while still emphasizing classy sophistication. It refrains from the jump cuts and restless eye defining so many music videos and, instead, concentrates on presenting visual imagery that will reinforce and enhance the song’s inherent strengths. It is wildly successful by this measure. Shadle joins her for the video and his presence completes the video, in some ways, like it does the musical performance. Both performers exhibit tremendous commitment to making the right impression on viewers/listeners.
The songwriting, courtesy of Richard Whiting and the iconic Johnny Mercer, delivers urbane sophistication we haven’t heard in popular song for many years. Despite the music and lyrics sounding somewhat out of time, it is a testament to the innate talents of its composers that “Too Marvelous for Words” still touches on universal and timeless emotions. The self-indulgence often heard in modern popular music is missing here – “Too Marvelous for Words”, instead, touches on human experiences with direct language that makes a quick connection with its audience rather than leaving them to find meaning in its message.
The spartan arrangement and brief running time for the track make an ideal listening experience. Anyone who loves American jazz/big band standards and/or has an appreciation for five star vocal talents will find a lot to embrace on this release. Margaret Davis’ new single “Too Marvelous for Words” highlights the talents of a great vocalist and superb interpreter of others’ material but, and not least, stands as a first class musician in her own regard. She shows pouring old wine into new bottles can produce viable vintages without tasting like regurgitated past glories. “Too Marvelous for Words” is a single incapable of soon wearing out its welcome with listeners and one of the finest achievements of Margaret Davis’ recording career.
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