Sunday, February 12, 2012

JKutchma, the Five Fifths, and a Valentine

You don't cover "My Funny Valentine" light-heartedly or off-handedly. It's not a happy-go-lucky love song, despite its title; its melody is weighted with something heavier, darker, harder to reconcile. To be honest, it's never really been a song I've longed to hear around the Ides of February. And yet, there is *something* about it... a peeling-back of artifice, perhaps, leaving the singer with nowhere to go but straight through the heart of it, their persona betrayed by the way they choose to deliver those offbeat words.

I thought about that when Jason Kutchma chose "My Funny Valentine" to conclude his set at the Whiskey in Durham tonight. The best-known versions are probably those by Ella, or Frank, or perhaps Chet Baker; my frame of reference is probably a little skewed, as I came to know it through renditions recorded several decades later by Elvis Costello and Rickie Lee Jones. For both of those artists, the song did the trick: The character of their voices when they sang it revealed much about the distinctive nature of their respective personalities.

The same was true tonight, even after Kutchma and his band, the Five Fifths, had served up an album's worth of their own first-rate original songs (plus a cover of David Bowie's "Heroes") with tasteful arrangements of guitars, bass, piano, pedal steel and fairly minimal drums. Kutchma began the set solo and ended it that way too, imbuing the dark, warm, hazy room with a take on "Valentine" that was remarkably assured in spite of its vulnerability. His voice acknowledged the darkness inherent in the song, yet seemed determined to press on toward the light on the other side.

Fitting, then, that the first song they've served up to the public from the album they recently recorded is called "There's A Light On"....

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