The late Gotham disc jockey William B. Williams gave Doris Day the nickname “Sparkle Plenty,” inspired by a character in the Dick Tracy comicstrip. Karen Oberlin, a stately blonde vocalist appearing Monday evenings at Danny’s Skylight Room, displays something of the same luminosity. Her appearance celebrates the release of a Miranda Music CD devoted to Day standards. Oberlin makes no attempt to imitate Day’s perky air or velvety sound, merely paying tribute to the retired film star with her own bright, clear voice and sensual charm.
Oberlin links the songs with an anecdotal, biographical narrative, tracing Day’s career as a big band singer with Les Brown’s Band of Renown through some rocky marriages and on to film and record triumphs. But her singing style is her own: Oberlin has a sweet distinctive sound and phrases several sumptuous evergreens with a fresh and appealing approach.
Sharpshooters Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley inspired a two-gun medley. Day appeared onscreen as the former, and the ardent “Secret Love” won a best song Oscar. Day also recorded an album of songs from “Annie Get Your Gun” with Robert Goulet. What survives is Day’s lovely recording of Irving Berlin’s “I Got Lost in His Arms.” Oberlin invests both ballads with a breathless intimacy.
From the teasing playfulness of the “Teacher’s Pet” film title tune to “It’s Magic,” the hit song from Day’s feature debut, “Romance on the High Seas,” Oberlin makes sunny musical statements without the help of “golden wands and mystic charms.” She simply lays the allure at the listener’s feet.
Day’s career as a big band vocalist reached a peak with the 1944 recording of “Sentimental Journey,” a melodic road trip that would accompany many a GI back home. It was a World War benediction that elevated Day to the forefront of her profession. Oberlin takes the song one step further than her musical mentor. She sings the opening verse, and it’s a lovely preface to a memorable moment in time.
A collaboration with pianist-composer Andre Previn produced what many consider to be Day’s finest recorded hour. From that memorable session, Oberlin sings “Close Your Eyes” and Previn’s “Yes.” Oberlin gives both tunes a heated and sensuous setting. Indeed, she even makes “Que Sera, Sera” a palatable musical statement.
Tedd Firth’s piano accompaniment provides full-bodied support, and it comes as no surprise to say that David Finck is a great friend to singers and one of the best bass players in town.