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About the Songs on"What's New, Pussycat?"

~ ~ ~I sang Burt Bacharach’s What’s New, Pussycat? as a little girl, and it was the first tune I thought of for this project. Scott R. Looney’s arrangement delivers just the right colors. I love the contrast with Tom Jones’ well-known version, and the joy of singing this waltz, with its references to flowers and makeup and lips, as one female to another.

~ Balancing the first track’s yin quality of romance, Slay Me (My Young Cat) has a yang quality of feistiness and challenge. When I wrote it, I was dating a younger man, and for the first time acting as a mentor in many ways to a partner. With its spare groove animated by funky pianist/cowriter Ben Flint, “Slay Me” plays with the pleasures of shifting power dynamics: “I’m so strong, I need a cat who stands his ground,/who knows how to roll in the grass/and how to lay me down.”

~ What ritmo embodies the back-and-forth drama of un gato y una gata better than a cha cha? I was thrilled to collaborate with Latin jazz maestro Wayne Wallace on Cha Cha de la Gata (Kitty-Cat Cha Cha), especially because more than 15 years ago, I wrote my first tune in his songwriting class. I also was glad I could fulfill my mother’s request that I mix some Spanish into my English lyrics, adding some sabor picante.

~ Although Our House includes only one line about cats, that’s the line everyone remembers best. It was a treat to record a stripped-down, acoustic ballad version, and to sing a rare song of pure contentment.

~ The longing expressed by Cole Porter’s Night and Day always seemed to me as spiritual as it was erotic. This version’s spoken-word sections call up the ancient magic of the cat and her association with incarnations of the goddess, from Bastet to Isis, from the huntress Artemis/Diana to the witches burned during the Inquisition. Her embodiment of fertility persists in nursery rhymes like “hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumps over the moon.” Magic moved me to improvise the end of this tune, and to pray that I may also live nine lives.

~ Crazy Cat existed (under another name) in a darting melody and poignant chords by Scott Looney that suggested this driving samba treatment and these lyrics. I now see that they echo the motifs that ring throughout this record: playfulness and heat, running and returning, longing and satisfaction – in short, the tension between the domesticated and the wild that is personified by the cat.

~ The Brazilian flavor continues with a bossa approach to You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To (another by Cole Porter; he must have been a cat lover). Because of my background as a poet, everything I do vocally aims to serve the lyrics and to express their phrasing, imagery, and story. One can really wrap oneself around these words.

~ The waltz ballad The Home Inside doesn’t have to do overtly with cats, but anyone who loves cats values the ability to create the essence of home, alone, and from the inside.

~ The poetry-rap tune Warrior Cat moves from the endless wartime that bombards us to a true warrior nature as revealed by the cat. We in the First World are easily distracted into ignoring the costs of our warmaking. Sometimes the only thing to wake us up is “words and music thrumming power and pleasure / ’til you spring up for your own truth, and tell it like treasure!”.

~ My nearly 19-year-old cat Malika, followed by her sister Camille, died a few months before I finished this record. When she was still alive, I wrote When Malika Sleeps, a lullaby about the slippery slope between life and death that we creatures all must face. “Yes, the time we’re alive is a light between two dreams.” May we each have the bravery and vision of the cat, and may we leap as fearlessly. ~ ~ Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) ~  
 
Go to CDs and Books for samples and more song information.