Palette Magazine

In Tune: Florence Foster Jenkins, Dream in the Blue and Darling Days are reviewed

By Gregg Shapiro

Meryl Streep as the titular character in Florence Foster Jenkins;
Meryl Streep as the titular character in Florence Foster Jenkins;

Whether they’re breathing new life into storied characters, covering beloved standards or revisiting the past, the following selections offer a fresh take on familiar content.

Going Cuckoo

Meryl Streep has many LGBT fans. Some fell in love with her as lesbian Jill Davis in Manhattan or as bisexual Clarissa Vaughan in The Hours. She’s equally triumphant in the campy Death Becomes Her and the fashion-forward The Devil Wears Prada.

In Streep’s latest film, Florence Foster Jenkins, the Oscar-winning actor stars as the titular character — a delusional socialite who bought her way onto the Carnegie Hall stage in the 1940s, despite not being able to sing. Directed by Stephen Daldry, the film also features Hugh Grant as her husband/manager and Simon Helberg as her accompanist.

Songbirds

“Jazz isn’t dead. It just smells funny,” said the late Frank Zappa about this most American of musical genres. Dream in the Blue (Steel Bird) is a collaboration between jazz vocalist Sara Gazarek and pianist and composer Josh Nelson. The release combines inspired covers of familiar tunes along with captivating originals. The soaring “Blackbird/Bye Bye Blackbird,” pairs the Beatles classic with Ray Henderson and Mort Dixon’s songbook standard, and it colors the mood for what’s to follow. Make that “Mood Indigo,” which is also covered. Emotional renditions of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (made famous by Bonnie Raitt) and Laura Mvula’s “Father Father,” flow nicely with Nelson’s “All Again” and Gazarek and Nelson’s “Behind Me.” The effect is downright dreamy and has the aroma of a true winner.

Out of the Nest

Darling Days is gender-queer writer and performer iO Tillett Wright’s savage memoir about growing up with her mentally unstable, drug-addicted single mother, Rhonna. Written in a punk-prose style that owes a debt to Patti Smith, Wright sets the stage a few years before she was born in 1985 and concludes just before her 23rd birthday in 2008.

Based in Manhattan’s Lower East Side — long before gentrification turned the neighborhood into real estate gold — the two women navigate their way through junkies nodding off at their doorstep and other terrifying encounters.

But the dangers outside are nothing compared to what Wright endures living with Rhonna. In this volatile setting, Wright develops the survival skills that eventually pay off at school and in other social situations, as she explores her own fluid gender identity and sexuality. Touching on trans issues, queer and straight relationships, a challenging family life and her own quest for love and stability, Darling Days pulls readers into truly dark spaces and then delivers them safely into hope.

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