Kiki Ebsen – Scarecrow Sessions (2014)

Let me start off but stating the obvious: Vast talent does not equate to popularity. Fortunately in singer, songwriter and keyboardist Kiki Ebsen’s case, her vast talent has led to a string on elegant albums and respect of her musical contemporaries.

The Southern California-based Ebsen is a classically trained vocalist from the California Institute of Arts, but she honed her talents as MIDI tech and keyboardist for the band Chicago. Ebsen, the daughter of the late actor Buddy Ebsen, has also toured extensively with Al Jarreau, Peter Cetera and Christopher Cross, among others.

Red marked Ebsen’s 1994 debut as a solo artist. She’s demonstrated her keyboard prowess and jazz/adult-comtempoary vocal chops on four additional projects from 2000’s Love Loud to The Beauty Inside in 2011. While Ebsen is an accomplished songwriter, she explored a mixture of covers in 2005’s Cool Songs Vol. 1.

Her upcoming release Scarecrow Sessions allows Ebsen to turn her talented arranging chops on a collection of jazz standards. This time, Ebsen pulls inspiration from her later father and presents the songs as a father’s day gift in his honor. She’s also assembled an all-star band to assist, with John Patitucci on bass, Chuck Loeb on guitar and producer David Mann on sax.

The results are touching and heartfelt. “Missing You” displays the grace and elegance required of a touching tribute from daughter to father. Ebsen’s unaccompanied piano is simply memorizing, yet doesn’t overshadow her lovely vocal stylings. “If I Only Had a Brain” is a sweetly comical nod to Buddy Ebsen’s almost-famous role in the movie, The Wizard of Oz. (Her father was replaced as the Tin Man, when he developed a severe allergy to the makeup.) Ebsen also takes on the heady task of updating “Moon River,” and her efforts pay off. She adds a sophisticated sheen to the classic, while paying homage to Buddy Ebsen’s role is the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

“Comes Love” finds Ebsen mixing blues and jazz effectively. Her version of the song evokes Marvin Gaye and Joni Mitchell. Ebsen and band then leap into “St. Louis Blues” boasting a full swing mood. The song, the first one Buddy Ebsen taught her on piano, allows Ebsen a chance to stretch both vocally and on piano. It soounds like the boys in the band took great joy in trying to keep up with her. Kiki Ebsen’s finale, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” is a perfect close for an album dedicated to the man who was originally cast to play the Scarecrow, only to be recast briefly as the Tin Man.

Scarecrow Sessions emerges as an excellent tribute to Buddy Ebsen on Father’s Day, and a treat to listeners any day of the week.

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Chicago. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at slangofages@icloud.com; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.