For the past few weeks, Diane and I have been reliving one of our favorite TV series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, in preparation for its forthcoming forth season on Amazon Prime next year. For those who haven’t clicked play on it (and you should), it’s about a housewife-mother’s metamorphosis into an edgy stand-up comic during the late 1950s and early ‘60s. The soundtrack is littered with lustrous pop and jazz gems from the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Julie London, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand and Dinah Washington; they help set the time and place as much as the retro clothes and cars.
The songs also serve as a reminder that this thing we now call “pop culture” wasn’t always aimed at teens and young adults, and that “adult entertainment” wasn’t always a nom de plume for porn. Supper clubs, high-end saloons and Vegas showrooms served up a rich mix of singers and comedians, most of whom likely wound up chatting with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show at some point in the 1960s and ‘70s. Most of the singers, I should mention, got their starts fronting big bands, though some—like Streisand—made their bones on Broadway. It’s a sophisticated art that not everyone loves or even likes, usually due to the propaganda pushed by the rock press back in the day. To my ears, however, it’s sheer magic.
One of my favorite modern practitioners of the form is jazz-pop singer-songwriter Melody Gardot, who I stumbled upon in 2008 while researching which Peggy Lee CDs to buy. Her My One and Only Thrill album, released in 2009, remains a glistening example of everything that’s good about music. I lose myself in the melodies and rhythms every time I play it.
I start there because the first time I pressed play on Love Was Easy by Sheila Simmenes, a Nordic jazz-pop singer, and the title tune sauntered from the speakers, I couldn’t help but to hear glimmers of Gardot’s “Our Love Is Easy” within the melody and arrangement—not the My One and Only Thrill version, but the stripped-down rendition found on her shimmering Live in Europe set. Their vocals also share similar shades and phrasings.
The songs that follow, which all explore the many hues of the heart, mostly flow as if one. “Beautiful” finds her remaining in a loveless relationship because it’s all she has. (Seriously, Sheila, gain some self-esteem!) “Anywhere You Go” conjures Jackson Browne at song’s start and Herb Albert a few seconds thereafter, while the uptempo “Here We Are”—like several other songs—blends Brazilian rhythms with old-fashioned pop that, just like the cocktail, packs a punch. “Same Old Song,” about longing for a lover to return, sounds like something Peggy Lee or Julie London could’ve sung. The snappy “Promise Me,” meanwhile, finds her musing about needing a man whose only concern seems to be “where the fun begins, and never where it ends.” “Could Be Love” leans again on the bourbon while she shares how, despite knowing better, she’s forever falling in love and, as a result, breaking her heart. The penultimate track, the breezy “Brazil,” travels to Ipanema for a spell.
Two of the songs are in Norwegian. The rhythm-heavy “Si Ka Du Vil” is a delight through and through, though I have no idea what it’s about, while the closing “Snale Mi Jente” blends, I think, Nordic folk into the mix. It’s a mesmerizing listen—as is the album as a whole. Many of its songs, as I intimated above, wouldn’t sound out of place on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel soundtrack. Which is all to say: If you enjoy sophisticated pop, make Love Was Easy your first stop after reading this. It positively shimmers.
The track list: