Ian Shaw – A Ghost In Every Bar ★★★★

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Ian Shaw (v, p), Simon Wallace (p) and Sue Richardson (flan). Rec. 2-3 April 2012

Fran Landesman (1927-2011) will forever be associated with the two songs, now standards, she penned with Tommy Wolf in the 1950s: ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most’ and ‘Ballad Of The Sad Young Men’. In fact, Landesman’s most fruitful creative partnership came in the latter part of her life when she joined forces with pianist and composer Simon Wallace in 1994. And it’s their songs, of which they penned over 400 in a 17-year period, that make up the meat of this 15-track anthology.

Recorded by some of the jazz greats including Ella Fitzgerald and Betty Carter, Landesman confessed towards the end of her life how tired she was of hearing ‘Spring’ until she heard Ian Shaw sing it. High praise indeed. Given that imprimatur, and with her co-writer Wallace in the piano chair (for the most part), it would be no exaggeration to say that the interpretations of A Ghost In Every Bar are definitive. Shaw is brilliantly insightful in every song, whether it’s the salutary caught-with-your-pants-down tale of ‘Feet Do Your Stuff’, the slacker anthem ‘Small Day Tomorrow’, or the confessional ‘Scars’ (the song Landesman was most proud of). The quartet of previously unrecorded songs is an unexpected treat, from the slow, slightly disquieting tread of ‘Stranger’ (‘I was never someone normal, I was always a surprise’) to the bittersweet ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’, one of three tracks in which Shaw assumes piano duties. Oh, and his take on ‘Spring’, beautifully accompanied by Wallace, really is quite brilliant.

– Peter Quinn