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Jazzy Vegetarian: Music

LAURA THEODORE, Award-Winning Vocalist: READ REVIEWS

Harvey Siders, JAZZTIMES:

There isn't another jazz singer on the planet who sounds like Laura Theodore. Just another way of saying she's a bona fide original. The same can be said of guitarist Joe Beck: many guitarists play and swing like he does, but his sound remains distinctive. Then consider this album. It had been in the works since late 2006, as a tribute to another much-loved original, Peggy Lee, as well as a homage to the songwriting team of Lee and her husband, Dave Barbour (also a singer-guitarist duo). Beck became ill in 2007, soon after he and Laura completed the recording sessions, and died from lung cancer in '08. The realization that this is his final recording makes it even more precious. Ms Theodore, blessed with a four-octave range, uses every bit of that spread to convey a full spectrum of emotions: from the minor mode distress of "Johnny Guitar" and the scolding sarcasm of "Why Don't You Do Right?" (What a delicious ending as Laura concludes on a strongly projected fifth, while Beck fingers his way up a minor triad, ending on a very hip major 7th; to the Latin lament, "My Small Señor;" the seductive "When You Speak With Your Eyes," containing some sultry sotto voce scat; and of course, for comic relief, "Mañana." How does Laura handle the blues? Quite effectively; check "You Was Right Baby." There are many non-Lee/Barbour standards, the most memorable being "I Get Along Without You Very Well," an expressive reading of the Hoagy Carmichael classic in which she lets her voice "grate" certain clusters of notes for dramatic effect. Speaking of effects, I have mixed feelings regarding Beck's invention, the alto guitar. He deserves no end of credit for devising an instrument that divides its six strings into two for bass notes, four for chords and/or melody. But the resulting tone has a ringing quality that tends to obscure his amazing finger runs and chordal richness. Half of the 16 tracks on the album is devoted to alto guitar; the other eight are for acoustic guitar with standard tuning.

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Chris M. Slawecki, ALL ABOUT JAZZ

The duet program Golden Earrings is Laura Theodore's ode to Peggy Lee's standard-setting duets with her husband, guitarist and co-composer Dave Barbour. Subsequent circumstances have added a sadder tribute to Theodore's instrumental partner, guitarist Joe Beck, who recorded his final work on Golden Earrings before he succumbed to cancer in July 2008. Tribute offerings can be tricky propositions. If you stay too close to the originals, critics say that you're simply "aping" them; change them too much and critics complain that you've strayed too far. Golden Earrings shows how Theodore and Beck mastered both approaches. Theodore delivers her most confident and flirty vocal on Lee's famous cougar growl "Why Don't You Do Right," keeping its sultry beat with Beck. But they completely reinvent "Fever" by highlighting its "off rhythms" and trading a vamped ending that blasts the original tune into a completely different universe. Theodore and Beck consistently sound like they're simply having a ball working this material out. Beck strums out a sunny bossa nova to walk with Theodore's bright and warm vocal in "Take a Little Time to Smile." His accompaniment in "Don't Smoke in Bed" seems played in no discernable rhythm; he simply follows the vocal in whatever time Theodore chooses to sing—the perfect accompanist. Theodore snaps off "I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me" like she's popping bubble gum, and she reshapes the melody and rhythm of "I Get Along Without You Very Well" like Ella Fitzgerald would, transforming Hoagy Carmichael's original into a lilting, soft blue haze. It seems entirely appropriate in retrospect that Beck's electric guitar haunts the first verses to introduce Theodore's voice and open "Johnny Guitar." No writer or speaker could craft a finer eulogy than Beck's own guitar voice. Theodore and Beck may use different instruments, but they sing in one voice. The final line of the title track, a mysterious tale of romantic gypsy legend, presents your invitation to enjoy this offering: "Let this pair of golden earrings cast their spell tonight."

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Wilbert Sostre, JAZZ & BOSSA

“Joe Beck and Laura Theodore's new CD "Golden Earrings" should be a Jazz classic for a lot of reasons. First, it is the last album recorded by Joe Beck before he passed away on July 22, 2008. Beck was a musician’s musician and his resume includes recordings with Miles Davis, Buddy Rich, Gil Evans, Frank Sinatra, James Brown and David Sanborn. There’s also the chance to hear once again Beck’s invention, the Alto Guitar, a hybrid guitar with two bass strings and four guitar strings. Another reason is Laura Theodore. For those who are not familiar with Laura’s work, she is one of the best singers on the Jazz scene today. But the main reason is the wonderful music on this album. Golden Earrings is a tribute to the music of another Jazz legend, Peggy Lee. There’s an undeniable chemistry between Joe Beck and Laura Theodore that shows all through this CD. Beck's use of chords and harmonies played on his alto guitar creates music so full and rich, it is ideal for Laura’s always soulful vocals. The beautiful intro on Johnny Guitar is a perfect way to start Golden Earrings. Beck’s guitar and Laura’s enchanting interpretation reminds me of a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack. Beck and Laura swing on tracks like Why Don’t You Do Right, You Was Right Baby, and I Can’t Believe You’re In Love With Me. On Take A Little Time to Smile, Laura moves easily between deep and bright tones, playing beautifully with Beck's chords and harmonies. Laura’s vocals on Fever and My Small Señor, are playful, suggestive and entertaining. Love the use of guitar harmonics by Beck on these songs. Laura has a quality in her voice and phrasing that reminds me of legendary Jazz singers like Ella and Holiday. Yet, she has an unmistakable style and voice. Listen to Solitude, Golden Earrings, When Your Speak With Your Eyes and the nice scats on Don’t Smoke In Bed. I specially enjoy the Bossa feeling on I Get Along Without You Very Well, and the bluesy version of I Don’t Know Enough About You, a perfect match for Laura classy and soulful voice. Golden Earrings contains some of the best Jazz music I’ve heard in recent years. This album is a must have in your Jazz collection.”

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JazzReview.com By Lee Prosser

 Musicians: Joe Beck (guitars) and Laura Theodore (vocals). Features songs that are jazz gems, each selection worthy of radio playtime and highly enjoyable. Tracks: Each song is a winner. “Joe Beck (1945 - 2008) and Laura Theodore make the perfect jazz pairing in this fine collection. Together they have created an excellent sound, a sound that is both imaginative and intimate in expression. Golden Earrings is a memorable duo recording that is destined to become a classic of its kind with its impeccable, perfect performances by Beck and Theodore. Joe Beck was always a fine guitarist, and in this collection, he shines. His performances are subtle and complex. Beck is one of a kind, and his uniqueness as a jazz guitarist will be greatly missed. Laura Theodore remains one of the finest jazz singers in contemporary jazz, and her voice is at its finest in these well-crafted performances. Her voice has a unique intimacy. This is a CD collection jazz listeners will want to have in their home library. If you are a fan of the late Joe Beck and Laura Theodore, you will want to have this CD. It provides hours of repeat listening pleasure by two of the great jazz greats in contemporary jazz. Highly recommended. Nice and easy, perfectly enjoyable!”

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Midwest Book Review: James A Cox

“Recorded over the course of four months from October 2006 to February 2007, Golden Earrings is the collaborative effort of jazz singer Laura Theodore and the late, great guitarist Joe Beck (who passed away in 2008 due to complications from lung cancer). Golden Earrings is a tribute to some of America's most beloved songs - and some songs less widely known, but nonetheless heart-touching. The beautiful musical stylings reflect how deeply these songs touched Laura and Joe, and the result is an album of pure audio splendor. Highly recommended for pure listening pleasure.”

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JazzReview.com Don Williamson 

“Golden Earrings is one of those projects that’s so natural for the participants that one wonders why it didn’t happen sooner. Instead, it happened just in time. This dedication to Peggy Lee and her husband-guitarist Dave Barbour represents the last recording of Joe Beck, another guitarist who performed with Lee. In Beck’s case, he accompanied her for over ten years. Though many listeners remember Lee primarily as a singer, lately her numerous compositions are receiving recognition for their universal appeal. Theodore and Beck certainly are familiar with them, and they recharge the songs with knowing charm, gentle wit and appropriate ruefulness. Still, they remain faithful to their own styles, instead of imitating Lee and Barbour—paying tribute while still interpreting. That is, Beck’s widely admired work on the alto guitar, with its sustained tone and two bass strings, is evident from the first track’s declarative notes. Those low notes allow Beck to double as “bassist” and guitarist on “Take a Little Time to Smile” as he alternates the throbbing low-pitched vamp with the more uplifting upper-register chords. Theodore is in sync with Beck’s choices of pitch, rising from the lower depths of her alto range in the introduction to a coquettish mid-range presentation of the optimistic thought (which seems discrepant with Lee’s later sultry, impassive image). Of course, the song most broadly associated with Peggy Lee is her mega-hit “Fever,” and of course Theodore and Beck put their own stamp on it. Beck sets up the backbeat and a chiming accompaniment, and Theodore concludes some of her phrases on major ninths in an energized fashion. But still, part of Golden Earrings’ value is its bringing attention to the breadth and humor of Lee’s songs, from “Why Don’t You Do Right?” revamped so to speak, in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to the grammatically incorrect “You Was Right Baby.” Some of Lee’s songs, re-created with verve by Theodore and Beck, suggest circumstances of her generation, like “Everything Is Moving Too Fast,” although once again that opinion may be considered true. Or that thought may have become an eternal truth, in this case allowing Theodore to have fun with the words and sentiment. The most memorable moments on Golden Earrings are those that feature the uniqueness of Theodore’s and Beck’s own musical strengths, such as the breathy rubato wordless introduction to “Don’t Smoke in Bed.” Or there is Beck’s emotionally performed, flamenco-derived ringing accompaniment to “Johnny Guitar,” aptly sequenced as the first track of the album. Theodore’s entreaty to the guitarist through the words of “Johnny Guitar” suggests their musical bond and the loss to us all after Beck’s passing in 2008.”

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BorderlandUK.com By, John M. Peters 

“I think this the last recording by guitarist Joe Beck before he died last year [2008], so Golden Earrings is a fitting memorial to his magical fingers. That aside, this collection of songs originally performed by Peggy Lee also acts as a wonderful showcase for vocalist Laura Theodore. A sixteen song collection, not necessarily Lee's greatest hits, but a rich selection from her capacious back catalogue, Golden Earrings is fundamentally a simple proposition - one guitar, one voice, no overdubs or multi-tracks. This is music as intimate as it can be. Ms Theodore's lovely voice seems to be channeling Peggy Lee's voice on some of the tracks, but her own character comes to the fore on the rest. She certainly has a similar way with a lyric and an inherent husky sexiness that comes rolling out of the speakers. Her voice is ably and sympathetically matched by Joe Beck's gently swinging guitar licks on the faster numbers and by a velvet glove on the slower - this is simply a love affair between guitar and voice. Golden Earrings is a great tribute to both the late guitarist and Peggy Lee, but it is also a fine showcase for Laura Theodore, and promises much for the future of this vocalist.”

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Jazz.com By Bill Barnes

“Golden Earrings was Joe Beck’s final recording, as he had succumbed to lung cancer in 2008. His absence from the jazz universe is sorely felt. Beck’s innovative approach helped to expand the sonic boundaries of jazz guitar, as evidenced in the wet, rich, and slightly percussive tone of his guitar work on stellar dates with a wide spectrum of artists — from jazz pillars like Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra and Buddy Rich to singer-songwriters such as Paul Simon and Laura Nyro. In this unique, satisfying tribute to the songwriting team of Peggy Lee and Dave Barbour, he joins forces with chanteuse supérieur Laura Theodore and the result is a fine farewell, indeed. Joe Beck was a master of the hybrid alto guitar (featured on other cuts from this album), which allowed him greater harmonic range while covering the functions of the bass. But here the Martin CF-1 also works well within the context of this guitar/vocal duo, sounding almost as rich as a fat archtop. On this track Beck’s sparing use of studio enhancement only emphasizes the lush substitutions which give his Martin an orchestral feel, actually serving to underscore the ballad’s intimacy. His lines are confident, authoritative, and well-situated between reference chords as he solos without really needing any other accompaniment. Laura Theodore’s sultry voice and relaxed phrasing fit snugly with the spontaneity of Beck’s guitar throughout the piece and do justice to Peggy Lee’s poignant, ultra cool ballad.”

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MuzikReviews.com Rukshan Thenuwara

“The collaboration between Joe Beck and Jazz vocalist Laura Theodore is, first and foremost a tribute to Jazz great Peggy Lee and her husband Dave Barbour. This interpretation of Jazz classics has in turn become a final tribute to Beck, a prolific guitarist who had worked with legends such as Burt Bacharach, Frank Sinatra, and Miles Davis. Beck passed away in 2008, at the age of 62. Golden Earrings pairs Laura Theodore, a seasoned Jazz singer with Beck’s Alto Guitar, which was invented by Beck himself. This unique instrument allowed him to play the bass notes, chords, and melody of a song, all at the same time, providing much of the album with its uniquely stripped down feel. “Johnny Guitar” starts the album off with an inspired reference to classic Jazz with its slow, melodic rise and fall. Theodore’s voice is sweet and gentle with a bitter edge to it, which serves her interpretation of the iconic catalogue of tunes well. “Why Don’t You Do Right?” is another example of the vocalists confident delivery, backed by Beck’s jutting strumming that offsets the striding lyrics describing a less than desirable partner. The duo’s take on “Fever” strips away the cool veneer of the original and adds a lively guitar background to Theodore’s bouncy vocal delivery which is both vibrant and seductive. “Manana” and “I Can’t Believe You’re In Love With Me” are also prime examples of this bright interpretation. There’s no shortage of talent on this album, tracks such has “Solitude” hits the mark with slow and tender vocalizations and “I Get Along Without You Very Well” sounds perfectly jazzy with Theodore’s seductive growl that captures the essence of the song’s post break-up rhetoric. Additionally, “What More Can a Woman Do” is another smooth track that hits its stride nicely near the end of the album. Overall, Golden Earrings is a smooth and catchy duet between a talented vocalist and innovative guitarist, who as stated in the album’s liner, left this plane of existence on top of his musical game.”

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All Music Guide BY Richard S. Ginell

“This was Joe Beck's last project -- an album of duets with the throaty-voiced Laura Theodore devoted to the repertoire of singer Peggy Lee and her onetime husband/guitarist Dave Barbour. As it stands, the Lee-Barbour project finds Beck in terrific shape, darting around in several styles, always inventive, always supportive of Theodore. Beck divides his time equally between a Martin acoustic guitar and a custom-designed Martin Joe Beck alto guitar that effectively combines the characteristics of a bass and a guitar. If truth be told, the difference in sound between the two instruments is not that great because Beck's clear-cut timbre and touch stamp an indelible signature on whatever he does. The main difference is in how the instruments are used, for Beck often seems to go with the acoustic whenever he wants to chonk away with rhythmic urgency while the alto lends itself to more intricate work. Theodore's voice and delivery only faintly resemble Lee's, but that's OK, for she imposes her own, deeper-voiced, more creative personality on Lee's material. The most interesting transformation occurs on, of all things, the covered-to-death standard "Fever" -- now reharmonized and revitalized, capped with a wonderfully weird avant-garde ending in which Beck makes his guitar sound like a CD player skipping on a defective disc. "Manana" is an interesting case -- a period piece in which Theodore dares not mimic Lee's original faux-Mexican accent in the politically correct 21st century, but instead interprets it cheerfully without apologies.