With her mix of upbeat retro-pop, tin-pan alley and theatrical cabaret sounds, Chicago-based singer-songwriter Joanie Pallatto arrives right on time with her 2021 album entitled My Original Plan. After a year and a half filled with plans and lives turned upside down and inside out, Joanie Pallatto comes across like the sonic angel of forgiveness. Sounding like a return to a kinder, gentler time, the 62 minute, 14-track My Original Plan sounds quite inspired by the cool joyful grooves of the mid 1960s, during a time when American pop icons like Nancy Sinatra and Joni Mitchell through to Simon & Garfunkel ruled the airwaves and the folk and jazz clubs. Evoking an array of captivating singer-songwriter imagery, Joanie Pallatto’s music is the real deal. For example, the first track “Open Your Eyes” is a jazz-inflected pop gem, reminding the listeners to focus on good deeds while living in a positive frame of mind, often times, before it’s too late. These days just the thought of truly living in the here and now may be a challenge but Joanie’s album makes it easy and fun too.
Key to Joanie’s jazzy mystery tour on My Original Plan is guitar icon Fareed Haque, the acclaimed World jazz-fusion fretboard ace introduced by music mogul Miles Copeland and Sting way back in the mid 1990’s when the dynamic duo impressed music lovers with their now defunct, yet then essential, Pangaea Records label. Serving here as album co-producer, Fareed’s guitar magic pairs naturally with Joanie’s jazzy pop approach, making My Original Plan a pick to click for music fans worldwide. Best known for his jazzy nylon string guitar approach, Fareed plays a range of guitars, including electric and adds loads of fretboard pizzazz to nearly every track here. Backing that up, the attractively illustrated CD booklet features liner notes by Joanie, Fareed and Joanie’s partner at Southport Records, Bradley Parker-Sparrow.
A good example where Joanie’s jazzy pop groove meets her 1960s retro pop-centric musical vision can be readily heard on track 2, “Do Butterflies Cry?”, a track where Fareed’s mix of steel string, electric guitars and keyboards drives Joanie’s music and vocals to even higher heights. Also significant to that track are the song lyrics, co-composed here by Sparrow. A highlight of My Original Plan is “The Confessional”. Ostensibly about trusting in the rigors of religious dogma in light of a world steeped in war and injustice, “The Confessional” sounds influenced by the best folk-rock singers of the 1960s and early ‘70s such as Harry Chapin and Phil Ochs. Conjuring images of both Ochs and Chapin, “The Confessional” just oozes with crucial lyrics, catchy melodic cadences and expert musicianship. Slipping in and out of Joanie’s song lyrics and vocals, Fareed adds in some dramatic tympani. It’s also worth mentioning the expert musicianship of John Devlin (6-string electric bass), Luiz Ewerling (drums) and Bradley Parker-Sparrow (piano). Also playing on a couple of tracks is the multi-talented Howard Levy who adds in harmonica and piano. A good example of Joanie and Howard digging each other can be heard on a tons ‘o fun track here called “Jon’s Place” as well as the buoyant CD-closing number “Lucky To Belong To You.”
Some of the tracks on My Original Plan are more jazz than pop, as you can hear on “About A Song” and on the lyric-less track “Rest” – a relaxing guitar / piano interlude, composed by Sparrow, that features Joanie’s voice backed up by both Fareed and Sparrow. Like so many of us, Joanie was a teeny bopper way back in the mid 1960s and her lyrics on “Almost 65” look back on the celebrated contributions of the Beatles and Stones and, with allusions to the Vietnam War, this memorable track is a fun-filled, misty-eyed tribute to the 1960s. The exotic flair of “Almost 65” is further enhanced by Fareed’s playing of the ‘Guistar’, with its sitar-like twang. Fareed’s guitars gives Joanie room to soar on a catchy little track here called “A Simple Time” - a song that sounds like a cross between Maria Muldaur and Joni Mitchell. Bringing the album into the present, the CD-closer “Lucky To Belong To You” ends the album on yet another upbeat note, fueled by native New Yorker Howard Levy’s irrepressible, jazzy harmonica vibes. It’s a rare thing these days to be able to locate and actually take time out to listen to an album of this depth and grace. Reconciling essential, long-standing attributes of Twentieth Century pop and jazz, Joanie Pallatto charms her music into the future with My Original Plan.
mwe3.com presents an interview with
mwe3: Your new album My Original Plan is so great it should be nominated for a Grammy. Is the key to the album its wide variety? Pop, jazz, singer-songwriter tracks and more… Tell us about what the “original plan” was behind the album and how it came together. When was the album written and recorded and was it challenging recording it during the past year?
Joanie Pallatto: I met Fareed sometime around 1994. He played on my CD Who Wrote This Song? Since then, he's been a consistent collaborator on all three of my CDs of original music, My Original Plan (2021), As You Spend Your Life (2011) and It's Not Easy (2008) all released on our Southport Records label. I feel that Fareed really "gets" my music. He asked if he could produce the CD, and after we worked on so much of the recording together, from arrangements to mixing that he generously decided that our credit should read: Produced by Fareed Haque & Joanie Pallatto. That speaks volumes to me about Fareed as a human being. Fareed contributed so much in so many ways. For example, "Open Your Eyes" was written as a swing tune in 6/4 and he suggested we do it in a Latin groove. On "The Confessional" he subtly changed the accent of the vocal phrasing in the first four bars, and he composed the beautiful Interlude section.
In addition to musical ideas, he was there for all the mixing. He has great ears, and did things I would have never thought of, sometimes adding effects to guitars or vocals, placement and reverb, things like that. I was there every step of the way, definitely making final decisions on what I wanted to hear. There can only be a single credit for recording and mixing, and that goes to Todd Carter. Todd is a great engineer and friend who is very open to ideas. He's worked on all of my recordings. Sparrow and I always put in our two or three or ten cents, and we mastered the album together. Fareed made the decision on the order of songs, and I am thankful for his perspective! Our graphic designer is the visionary artist Al Brandtner. He's done many of our Southport CDs and always comes up with such a creative, professional and fun package!
mwe3: How and when did you start Southport Records and tell us about your relationship with Bradley Parker-Sparrow and how you work and write music together. Does Sparrow have albums out under his own name too? What does Southport stand for and what other websites do you own and operate? Who is your webmaster, they’re very well done.
Joanie Pallatto: When I met Sparrow in 1980, he had his own studio and record label called Sparrow Sound Design. His recorded his first LP, Latin Black on his SSD label. When we got married in 1982, we decided to build a "real" recording studio and moved to Southport Avenue, near Wrigley Field. My first LP, Whisper Not reflects the new label name of Southport Records. In the early days, we concentrated on releasing great Chicago musicians and friends, which helped to put our little label on the map, so to speak. Among them are the late, great pianist Willie Pickens, the legendary tenor saxophonist Von Freeman, and his brother, guitarist George Freeman.
From the beginning, Sparrow and I performed at clubs and concerts in Chicago and continued to release our own records, which you can find on our website, www.chicagosound.com. Sparrow has his own sound and composes freely from his creative mind. He's never written anything down, with the exception of lyrics. He is self-taught, and I have learned as much from his approach to music as I have from my music education at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. We usually come up with ideas in the kitchen, jot them down and run to the piano and work out the song. It's always fun and creative!
mwe3: Every track on My Original Plan is excellent but some I want to single out a few tracks including your single from the album, “Do Butterflys Cry”. How did you work on the track lyrics with Sparrow? Fareed’s guitar work on that track is very dynamic. I saw the video you made in the Butterfly farm. Where was that filmed and what was that like? Tell us about your butterfly fascination, especially in the video.
Joanie Pallatto: "Do Butterflies Cry?" seemed to magically write itself! I composed the music at the piano and asked Sparrow if he had any lyric ideas. We always go back and forth like that on our songs. He wrote the opening line "So steal the sky"… which is so beautifully poetic. Everything flowed from there. We love visiting Costa Rica, and in February of 2020 we were in the capital city of San Jose. I found The Spirogyra Butterfly Farm Park Garden online and decided we should go there and see if we could make a video. The entire staff was very gracious, and it was a magical experience to see these beautiful butterflies in a natural environment, freely flying around us. Fareed added such a cool groove to the song, not only with his gorgeous guitar work, but with extra keyboard and percussion overdubs that created a fully produced sound. He encouraged me to add my own voice as background vocal parts.
mwe3: How would you compare My Original Plan with some of your early albums? How many albums have you released to date and what are your early albums like, when was your first album release and do you have a couple album favorites from your back catalog? Are they still available on CD?
Joanie Pallatto: My first recording as a leader was Joanie Pallatto Whisper Not in 1986. I was so lucky to record with fantastic musicians, all legends in their own right. Willie Pickens on piano, Dan Shapera on bass and Robert Shy on drums was the main trio. My good friend April Aloisio and I sang together on "Antonio's Song" one of my favorite Michael Franks compositions. I had the excellent arranger Cliff Colnot write for 19-strings, a dream come-true. Howard Levy was on piano and Fender Rhodes, Alejo Poveda on drums, Eric Hochberg on bass and Ruben Alvarez on congas. Songs were "Whisper Not", "Yesterdays" - with Famoudou Don Moye on drums!, and Sparrow's original tribute to Bud Powell, "Bud-Wiser" with our friends Kevin Conru on bass and Dave Wolf on drums.
What followed was Who Wrote This Song? (1993), with my pal Bob Dorough as my special guest, Passing Tones (1995), FIRE with Von Freeman (1996), TWO with pianist Marshall Vente (1997), Words & Music (1999), The King and I (2000) with the legendary pianist-composer King Fleming, It's Not Easy (2008), As You Spend Your Life (2011), Days with Joanie & Sparrow (2013, Two Again (2015) with Marshall Vente, Float Out to Sea (2017) with Sparrow, and My Original Plan (2021) along with several other CDs of Sparrow's that I am always a part of... My earlier CDs were a mix of standards with a few originals along the way. I enjoy changing things up with the arrangements. I wrote all the lyrics to King's music on The King and I and the 2 CDs with Marshall are an eclectic mix of pop songs, standards, Latin tunes done as a piano-vocal duo. I have the 3 CDs of all original music, and I intend to continue in that direction. I guess Fire would be my favorite. It remember after the session I told Sparrow that I didn't care if it was ever released, because creating the recording was such an amazing experience!
mwe3: Who assembled your band on My Original Plan and who else plays with you on the album. Tell us about your rhythm section Luiz Ewerling and John Devlin. I saw Howard Levy also plays on a couple great tracks. The band sound incredibly tight on the CD. It’s just such a perfect balance, sounds like the optimum band!
Joanie Pallatto: I chose the band, all great players and good friends. Luiz Ewerling has played with me on gigs and recordings, and he always brings such an empathetic ear to every song. John Devlin holds down the groove like crazy! Howard Levy has been a constant collaborator on many of my records. His harp playing is totally unique, and he's a great pianist and musician. I added a few guests on other tracks, the beautiful tone of Bobby Lewis on trumpet for "The Photograph", and Fareed brought in Juan Pastor on bongoes for "My Original Plan"… via wav files!
Fareed wanted acoustic bass on "Jon's Place" so I called in Kurt Schweitz, who laid down a nice groove. Calling upon Fareed was essential. We had two intensive rehearsals before the sessions, and he created the grooves, tempos, interludes, and made invaluable suggestions on the arrangements. We had such fun!
mwe3: “The Confessional” is another highlight on My Original Plan. How did you write the lyrics? As you spoke of the year 1972, do you mention Vietnam directly or I guess it’s the bombs in every war? Fareed wrote a great interlude. Sounds inspired by the introspective protest music from Phil Ochs and even Harry Chapin. Tell us about the Latin spoken words by Bill Nolte.
Joanie Pallatto: I had been writing "The Confessional" for many years, and finally decided to present the song on "My Original Plan." It's a true story that my last confession was in 1972. I was raised Catholic, and when I left home for college, I continued at a new church on the U of C campus. When I confessed my sins to the new priest, he really did slam The Confessional door after he said "Come back when you're sorry for your Sins." I had merely confessed that I was in love, and, well... Oh, well! My expansion of the lyrics brought a new dimension to the story line, with the dropping bombs, the secret lie... Bill Nolte sings the words the priest sings and recites during a mass. I was lucky Bill was in Chicago, we spent many years together at CCM. Fareed added music to the thoughtful Interlude section, which brought another dimension to the music. I wish my mother was alive to hear “The Confessional”. I think she would understand it very well!
Joanie Pallatto: Fareed took the song in a very cool direction that I wasn't expecting! He always encouraged me to add more vocals. I guess that is kind of a specialty of mine, having sung on many radio and TV commercials as a studio singer when I first moved to Chicago in 1979. It's something I do well, and it comes naturally to me.
mwe3: Is “Almost 65” autobiographical? Did the song evoke memories from your childhood? I was thinking almost as in 65 years old and also the year 1965, which was a great year for music.
Joanie Pallatto: I had the idea for "Almost 65" and was determined to finish the song before I turned 65 on July 17, 2019. I did the complete writing. It took a while longer to release it in 2021. No way was I going to change the name or year!
mwe3: Is “The Blank Page” one of the more tragic lyrics you’ve done?
Joanie Pallatto: "The Blank Page" is Sparrow's song, music and lyrics. I added a few words, and melody here and there, but basically he wrote it for a film. The producers ended up using rock bands. Their loss.
mwe3: You mentioned the 1960s as being a big inspiration for your music. There aren’t any cover tracks on My Original Plan but I know you covered the Beatles song “Help” on an earlier album. Tell us about songs you have covered in the past.
Joanie Pallatto: I've enjoyed doing cover songs, like the Beatles’ "Help", especially with pianist and arranger Marshall Vente. He breathes new life into standards, Latin and pop songs, and we have our own sound. I love our CDs!
mwe3: You were telling me about your earlier track “Float Out To Sea” and you said it’s one of your favorites. Tell us more about that track and what album it appears on? It has a kind tropical jazzy progressive sound to it! I love the video you did. Was it filmed in Costa Rica? Can you mention a couple of your favorite videos?
Joanie Pallatto: Sparrow and I were on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, our home away from home. He was getting bitten by mosquitos pretty bad, and one of our friends proclaimed "Sangre Dulce!" which translates to "Sweet Blood." We wrote the song together, and my idea for the lyric was to show how the men from that beautiful country are strong and kind, and possess "Sweet Blood." So it wasn't really about the mosquitos! We filmed the video in Costa Rica the following year after we recorded the track, which is on our CD from 2013, Days with Joanie & Sparrow.
mwe3: Tell us about your upcoming CD release party coming up on October 1st in NYC. I hope that even with all the virus fears and mandates in NYC people will come out to see you live.
Joanie Pallatto: What can I say? I am very happy to be returning to New York to present the music from My Original Plan at Pangea. It's a lovely and intimate room, and the owners and staff really care about the music and musicians. It's important to all of us, collectively, to return to performing live. Show proof of vaccination, bring your mask and have a good time! I certainly intend to.
mwe3: Are you optimistic about the rest of 2021 and the coming year? You mentioned you had already written several new tracks. What kind of musical direction are you planning on going in next and what are your plans for the rest 2021 and will there be another album next year and what about other releases on your label?
Joanie Pallatto: I am very hopeful that people in need will have their needs met. That is no small wish. We are still in the middle of a world pandemic. People need food and shelter, to be sure. And we all respond to art and music with every breath we take. As a musician, I plan to continue writing and recording. When I write a song, it makes me reflect on my life and that helps to give me a purpose. Our friend and legendary jazz guitarist George Freeman will be recording another CD for us for a release in 2022. He is in no hurry, at 94 years-young! What an inspiration!