For over ten years, China Forbes has lent her voice and her songwriting talents as the frontwoman for the unique and exquisite sounds of Pink Martini, a multi-genre musical ensemble spearheaded by Thomas M. Lauderdale, a pianist to whom Forbes befriended in the early-90’s as they were attending Harvard University.
Originally trained as an actress who had appeared in many off-Broadway plays, Forbes and Lauderdale began playing music together and eventually formed Pink Martini with the intent of playing for political functions. Gradually, the band’s members began to grow and so did their repertoire. The group plays a wide array of styles; a fizzing blend of jazz, lounge, classical, and swing, delivered in as many languages as the genres they weave so effortlessly together. And Forbes, as the band’s vocal focus, pilots each song masterfully, no matter how technically difficult.
Pink Martini has released three remarkable albums in the years they’ve been together. The first was Sympathique, an album that has now amassed over 1 millions copies sold. Hang On Little Tomato followed in 2004. And last year, the band released Hey Eugene!, which by many critics, is considered their strongest collection of songs yet.
’78 marks Forbes’ second solo effort (the first being the 1995’s Love Handle, released before the singer’s Pink Martini days). Released earlier this year, ’78 finds Forbes making a more pop-focused, singer/songwriter approach. Far removed are the traces of Pink Martini’s cross-cultural styles, and with the exception of a re-recording of the cheeky ‘Hey Eugene,’ a song Forbes wrote and recorded for Pink Martini’s most recent album, ’78 is a complete departure.
Released on Lauderdale’s own Heinz Records, Forbes enlisted producer Gregg Williams and released an album of songs that align themselves more in the same category as songwriters like Chantal Kreviazuk and Sheryl Crow. ’78 is a collection of pop music friendly enough to find itself on the radio, but smart enough to avoid comparisons to disposable pop acts and retain its lyrical dignity.
Standouts include the sweet and soothing ‘One Less Word,’ the infectious ‘Everybody Needs Somebody and the album’s opener, ‘When This Is Over,’ a song co-written with the Go-Go’s Charlotte Caffey.
Despite the album’s many beautiful moments, ’78 doesn’t necessarily showcase anything new for Forbes in regard to her strengths. I’d wager fans of Pink Martini who expect a more familiar Forbes will most likely find themselves disappointed.
China Forbes is scheduled to perform a string of dates starting in April, performing at major cities throughout the country. For show and ticket information, be sure to check her official site.