Lounge singer Laura Ainsworth’s third album sparkles like champagne


It’s interesting that we sometimes name styles of music on the venues where we consume them: Arena rock. Honkytonk. Disco. Broadway. And, of course, cabaret.

In fact, cabaret may be the hardest to pigeonhole outside of a smoky club dotted with cafe tables, well-dressed music lovers and martini glasses. Torch songs, jazz, American standards, showtunes — can all be “cabaret-style” in the hands of the right artist, whether that’s vocalist, musician or arranger.

So when Dallas lounge singer Laura Ainsworth releases an album — as she just has, called Now Vintage, her third LP — you have to sit at home imagining the tinkling of ice cubes in a highball (or, just as legitimately, make a cocktail yourself and create your own ambiance). There’s no doubt her voice is meant for a club. She lives the ethos of a denizen of a jazz cabaret: The long pumpkin-colored hair framing powder-white face and bicep-length silk gloves. Cabaret is storytelling, and Ainsworth starts telling the story before the first crackle of music.

Her voice, a satiny ribbon that seems to flow as an uninterrupted river of downbeats, is rich and distinctive, but it’s her sense of humor that catches you note after note. On a song like “Where Did the Magic Go?,” a listicle enumeration of past jazz greats (her own father, the late big bang clarinetist Billy Ainsworth, is one of those mentioned), she certainly flirts and winks with her voice, as if to say, “Can you believe those guys?” Humor — or call it post-modernist awareness of the retro quality of her song choices — draws the listener in like a conspirator. Nothing in this world can replace a man, she sings… but you think she might be joking, too. Older lyrics can be universal but also cheesy; she embraces it all. (The title alone shows wit in the paradox of a vintage that is also new… but comprised of older tunes.)

One savvy decision is the selection of a fairly obscure set of standards to tackle here (of the 13 tracks, only three — the lead-off “That’s How I Got My Start” by Frank Loesser, “Where Did The Magic Go?”  and a Kern/Gershwin mashup of “Long Ago and Far Away” — will be widely familiar). The great advantage of that, of course, is that every song can still surprise you — the lyrics, the licks, the sentiments. New Vintage is an album of reinvention, both feet planted in the present, but forever looking back.            

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Laura Ainsworth, Now Vintage
(Electus Records)

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 25, 2017.