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Helmut Lotti - Time to Swing

2008-12-05 12:26
Helmut Lotti
So what does Europe's top easy listening salesman do after he's milked the light classical pop and Elvis tribute cash cows dry? Easy, like every other crooner from Barry Manilow to Rod Stewart and back he starts to swing.

Opener "Mack the Knife" ignores the Vegas lounge tradition for a Weimar cabaret cool that pays homage to it’s genesis in Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera. It’s a deft retro move that allows Lotti to nail the tongue-in-Charleston farce at the core of "Cabaret", while adding his own polish (no spit needed) to Sinatra’s "Fly Me to the Moon".

Um, is this the same Helmut Lotti who gave "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", "Pata Pata", "Sarie Marais" and our national anthem an extreme classical pop airbrush on 2005’s sonic safari Out of Africa? Right. But wrong. See, Helmut was out of his depth tackling an African songbook.
With Time to Swing he's on safer soil: transatlantic standards turf that allow us to meet Helmut: the master method actor. A post-cabaret thespian who channels cheeseburger-era Elvis and Perry Como - rather than the Rat Pack - during finger clicking vamps on "King of the Road" and the King's own "Fever". This is Helmut the Mathis and Boone fan who invites British "queen of swing" Clare Teal round for a delightfully coy ballad tête-à-tête on "L.O.V.E."

Dismiss this as 'adult contemporary' kitsch if you like. But there's a method in the madness of King Helmut’s decision to cull the jazz out of his swing selection here. When he translates "Beyond the Sea" back into its original French "La Mer" and slaps on some 101 Strings arrangements he isn't just giving original composer Charles Trenet a high five, he’s giving the idea of the Great American Songbook colonising swing a surreptitious finger.

He's saying sure Bobby Darin and Dino were cool, but Charles Aznavour was classy (cf. Truffaut’s Don't Kill the Piano Player). He’s saying Xavier Cugat's "Perfidia" swings, but it doesn’t need any mariachi brass clichés if you’re a fan of Ferrante and Teicher or Esquivel!

That's dandy. But what to make of the way Lotti sashays his way through a camp version of Jim Croce's "Bad Leroy Brown"? Or his schlock ‘n roll romps through originals "Reet Petite" and title track, "Time to Swing? Do these travesties also belong to the 'so bad they’re good' club of cult karaoke lounge party starters? Well, let’s just say that any crooner who has the chutzpah to translate "Mack the Knife" into a German Arthur Murray dance class mambo - billed as "Mackie Messer", no less - deserves a second listen.

- Miles Keylock

Helmut Lotti is no mug. The 40-something Belgian crooner knows he can't compete with a classical pop pinup such as Josh Groban or a sexy lounge lizard swinger like Michael Buble.

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