Movie Magic Through Voice
When first approached to cover jazz singer Petra Haden’s (daughter of the legendary Charlie Haden) new album, Petra Goes to the Movies, it sounded like your basic cover album of light jazz with sultry vocals. While there are a small handful of songs with this quality, the majority of tracks on this album are a capella renditions of theme songs from classic movies. And not theme songs that everyone knows and sings along to, theme music that you hum along to.
This makes the album especially interesting as it becomes clear within the first few seconds of album opener, “Rebel Without a Cause Main Title,” that frenetic scat singing will be the driving force behind the album. On this song especially, there was a marked procession of feeling – the listless energy of the first thirty seconds sweeping into a more subdued and orchestral quality of singing. This ability to showcase the mood of a cinematic medium, apparent from the first track, permeates throughout the entire album.
The album showcases many songs from classic movies that younger generations either might not be familiar with or might not have realized where they came from. For the older generation, Haden covers such films as the aforementioned Rebel Without a Cause, Cool Hand Luke, Psycho, and Goldfinger. Younger listeners will recognize Superman and The Social Network.
Haden’s standouts include the Rebel, Psycho, and the Superman themes. In each of these songs, she manages to morph her voice into all the different instruments present in an orchestra or band and perfectly captures the feeling that each iconic piece inspires. Her traditional lyrical singing in which she is accompanied by actual instruments occurs most notably on “Goldfinger Main Title” and “Calling You” from Baghdad Cafe. Her voice is sultry and alluring, more Norah Jones and in alignment from what you would normally expect from an album such as this.
The execution of the album is novel in that it is completely unexpected and really gets you thinking about the kind of effort and talent it takes to not only sing a capella, but to actually get your vocal chords to become one with the music. Petra Goes to the Movies is probably not something you’re going to listen to on repeat unless you’re a hardcore film buff or particularly passionate about jazz. But, Haden’s work is not to be missed in that she is not only adept at bringing to light a certain nostalgia for films you grew up with, but in helping you rediscover your appreciation for all the innate talent that goes into scoring and vocal dexterity.