Rob Lester, Talkin’ Broadway
She bills herself as the "hybrid songbird" because she enjoys, performs and is influenced by a variety of musical styles. Ava Victoria is a songbird who can belt, coo or trill sweet or hot. She soars with some Broadway songs; Kickin' Up Life kicks off with "Life Is" from Zorba, immediately establishing her take-charge competence on this anthem of carpe diem. Other show tunes on this, her second CD, include terrific performances of two Jerry Herman numbers, a joyful "Just Go to the Movies" (A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine) and a powerfully noble "I Belong Here" (The Grand Tour). She's quite affecting on more vulnerable ballads, too. Witness "It Never Was You" and "Once Upon a Time," where tenderness prevails without any sticky sentimentality.
Clear-voiced and clearly comfortable in various moods, Ava puts a listener at ease. Not just a singer, she accompanies herself on guitar on seven of the twelve tracks and co-wrote two, with a little help from the Bible on "Are You Ready Now?" Instrumentation varies from song to song, with three different pianists and guest musicians variously playing cello, trombone, Celtic bodhran, etc.
I'd missed her first album, Hybrid Songbird, but got both of them earlier this year. Though I haven't fit this CD into a column until today, I listened to both right away and kept them around, going back to them more often than most. They are initially exciting and wear well. (The first is two-thirds show tunes and is excellent, too, with some of the same writers represented: Herman, Weill/ Anderson and Kander & Ebb).
The Beatles' "For No One," changed from the third person narrative, is beautifully done, with great feeling and a consistently focused sense of storytelling. My only disappointment of the known songs is "Here's to Life," as it just isn't as effective to me when sung by someone who sounds so young rather than the older singers who have gravitated to it, bringing a wealth of life experience and perspective. Hard-won battles don't come through on her more serene reading of this.
Ava has a very attractive, controlled, emotion-filled vibrato that's very effective on the ballads and she sounds like an authentic folk singer/ troubadour when she puts on her folk hat; she can choke back a tear at times, too. Hybrid and high class, she's got a lot going for her.