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Saturday, December 6, 2014

The New Nostalgia and the Triumph of Cabaret Culture

Songs from the American songbook of the 20th Century have made a major comeback over the past season, many of them selling briskly over the internet as cds or downloads, enough that a distinct trend can be gleaned. And that trend may be based on a sociological need for escape to times that seem better, at least, because we know how things resolved themselves, and based on our cravings for a bit of sentimentality to sweeten the daily, the predictable and the mundane. It is also, however, a renunciation of the au current styles of pop music and the state of music radio.

We have experienced this type of pop phenomenon once before: during the recession of the early 1970s, when Bette Midler brought back The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Chapel of Love, swing bands went disco a'la Dr Buzzard's Savannah Band and Vicki Sue Robinson, and the smooth retro harmonies of the Manhattan Transfer were in favor. Now, as our economy rebounds from another recessionary financial period, we find the New Nostalgia dominating pop music.

Lady Gaga certainly knows a trend when she hears one. She teamed up with Tony Bennett to record ballad and upbeat jazz and swing numbers like Cole Porter's "Anything Goes," and "It Don't Mean a Thing" on their album, Cheek to Cheek, which was a major financial and critical success this year. And Bette Midler returns to form with her all-girl group concept album, It's the Girls, bringing back tunes by The Andrew Sisters, the Ronettes, doing a duet with girl-group original, Darlene Love, and even reaching back to the 1930s to recreate that seminal girl-group, The Boswell Sisters.

Much of this material has been kept alive, largely here in New York City cabarets, through the decades, where it has evolved. I've been to several shows this past season where songs have mostly come from the doo-wop '50s through the house-music dance classics of the '90s. And disco nostalgia is all the rage! (We can, perhaps, thank Broadway's Mama Mia for that influence, and for finally making '70s disco legit.) Ronnie Giles' "Revenge of the Third-Rate Lounge Singer," received a very positive review from Broadway World! Kim Grogg's "Go Where the Love Is" (both these shows were at the venerable Don't Tell Mama cabaret) and Carly Ozard's musical bouquets to Bette, "Midler on the Roof" were also among the finest, and they played to full houses. And off-Broadway's Sylester musical, "Mighty Real" will return January 11 at the Gramercy Theater as a concert, further cementing the disco-era as part of the New Nostalgia.

Aretha's latest album, covering divas past and present, has Ms Franklin back in disco mode with classics like "I Will Survive." Kristin Chenoweth's recent Coming Home album includes Broadway show tunes and "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)!" If a gay sensibility runs through all the albums and shows I've mentioned, what could be trendier or more part of this tradition of quality music?

Easy listening and middle-of-the-road no longer are dirty words for me. Not necessarily, anyhow. It's been said, "nostalgia isn't what it used to be" but 2014 proved it's even better.


  1. A belated "Thank you very much Buddy", for including me in this who's who of the Cabaret world....I am honored!

  2. Yes...This certainly UP MY ALLEY.. Love all three... Especially the Divine Miss M. I definitely be on the lookout for these albums for sure.

  3. Yes...This certainly UP MY ALLEY.. Love all three... Especially the Divine Miss M. I definitely be on the lookout for these albums for sure.