For aging rock and pop stars, drawing upon The Great American Songbook has been both a source of inspiration and a path back on the musical charts. There's a certain bizarre feeling that comes with hearing "Rod the Mod" go from "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" to "Makin' Whoopie" without a trace of irony.
Which brings us to Beat Kaestli, a native of Switzerland, relocated to New York City who has just released his first album and like rock superstars Stewart and Ronstadt, Kaestil is paying tribute to the Great American Songbook. His problem is how does a unknown singer get any attention with all the Big Name artists already working the same side of the street?
Well, sincerity helps. And to paraphrase Smucker's jelly, with a name like "Beat Kaestil" you'd better be good. He is. He can sing. Not in a over-the-top American Idol kind of singing, but the kind where the song is more important than the singer. The kind that says Kaestli has been on a stage before, standing in front of a microphone and entertaining paying customers, not Paula Abdul.
"Summertime" is one of those standards that has been done so many times that it's impossible not to compare Beat's interpretation to others. It's also unfair because he sings in a plaintive whisper accompanied only by a sparse keyboard and percussion arrangement. But he picks up the pace a bit as he swings through a snappy "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To." The up-tempo songs of Happy, Sad and Satisfied are the most engaging. Least satisfying is an attempt at "I (Who Have Nothing)" where Kaestli audibly drops out of tune. Kaestli counts Nat King Cole, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday and Luther Vandross as inspirations, but he lacks the vocal power to cover the song as effortlessly as Vandross as his voice cracks from the strain.
Still, you have to give the guy points for not being intimidated. When you've got rock n' rollers like Stewart or rappers like Queen Latifah mining George Gershwin and Cole Porter songs for hits, you can't help but wonder do they really appreciate the music. Too often, the persona overwhelms the music. Kaestli sounds naturally relaxed around these songs and that counts for a lot.It might seem like comparing apples to oranges to compare Beat Kaestli to rock stars looking to hit the jackpot one more time, but not really. I would rather give a fresh and hungry up-and-comer who gets it like Kaestli a shot at "Lazy Afternoon" instead of a fading "big timer" trying to pump a few more bucks into their retirement 401K.