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Cynthia van Roden: Lost Verses (Dec. 2019)


Cynthia van Roden, a local with a KC cast, fits the bill. It’s soulful and heartfelt.

Some of the time when I hear someone sing, I can tell they don’t know the depth of what they’re saying, don’t know the full extent of the words: their context, their full import. That is not the case with this singer. You can tell she knows these lyrics deeply, so much so that it feels as if she could have written them, if born during a different time, different era. Such is her authentic understanding. When I see school productions of Shakespeare, I often go home puzzled because of that lack of understanding, when kids know their lines, know a pack of words, but not what those passages really mean. But Cynthia gets it. She knows what she is singing about. And she makes these songs her own, brings her own flavor and feeling to them. Through that, her interpretation, she makes me see with new eyes and hear with new ears. As someone famously said, you’ve got to live it for it to come out of your horn. The same is true here. Cynthia van Roden seems like she knows these lines, these lyrics, and has lived them—in her own contemporary way. She truly knows what she’s saying, singing.

As a case in point, I don’t think I’ve ever heard verse to Blue Moon so faithfully and soulfully delivered as Cynthia van Roden does. It’s as if she’s telling a story as much as she’s singing a song. It’s like she’s on a theatrical stage, bringing the story elements of the song to life. I could see and hear this one on Broadway. The same goes for many of the other classic, standard tunes on this album. Cynthia van Roden not only sings the songs, but she also brings their narrative elements truly and vividly to life.

Cynthia van Roden smartly uses accomplished Kansas Citians as her backing, as her band. She alternates Todd Strait and Ray DeMarchi and Tim Cambron on drums, Danny Embrey and Rod Fleeman on guitar, Paul Smith and Roger Wilder and Jeffrey Ruckman on piano. The list goes on, full of known folks, notables.

Barry Springer’s trumpet work on Blue Moon tastily complements Cynthia van Roden’s vocals. While she is light and high and sugary, he is dark and brassy, understated. Cynthia van Roden seems to be able to get at a good mix, as if preparing a simple, but sophisticated, drink. Mixed well, we don’t notice the ingredients as much as the savory blend. Singing in English seems daunting enough, so it’s especially impressive when someone sings well in another language. In this case, Cynthia van Roden sings well in French on C’est Si Bon in the spirit, dexterity, and passion of French jazz greats like Edith Piaf, but with the more contemporary feel of Karrin Allyson or Madeleine Peyroux.

There’s a kind of levity and hope to Cynthia van Roden’s delivery. So many try to sing as if the only root worth following into the ground is that of sadness. Cynthia van Roden reveals more than one mode or tone or mood, and she seems to keep it bright, when she can.

Other personnel on the album include Marvin Gruenbaum on violin, James Isaac on sax, Rick Mareske on vocals, John Miles and Steve Rigazzi and Gerald Spaits on bass, and Jeffrey Ruckman on piano. The album can be found through local stores as well as through large, legacy online shops, such as Amazon and CD Baby.

--Kevin Rabas

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