Drew Nugent is well established in the Philadelphia traditional jazz scene where he has performed with his band, The Midnight Society, since co-founding it in 2009. The band has ventured to jazz events around the northeast and appeared on A Prairie Home Companion. In 2013 they released a CD, Alice Blue Gown, and more recently Nugent has created a solo album, I’ll Never Be The Same. The difference in the two records shows a profound and welcome growth in Nugent’s approach to performance.
Both albums are unassailable musically- bright, ambitious playing in raggy vaudevillian style. Alice Blue Gown will quickly convince you that The Midnight Society must be a joy to see live. The instrumental numbers, focusing on Nugent’s fine piano playing, are worthy of a toe-tapping sit-and-listen, the more lively numbers will pull many up from their chairs.
As a whole, his work with The Midnight Society is what you’d expect from crowd-pleasing young trad jazz players with a heavy ragtime and novelty influence. My only complaint about Alice Blue Gown is that Nugent hams it up just a bit too much on his period vocals. They fall at times into caricature territory. This works better live. Had I only the 2013 record to listen to I’d have given the unsolicited advice to tone it down in the recording booth.
I’d have been wrong. By the 2017 solo album he has found his own unique vocal personality and while some may not be happy unless they are guessing at lyrics through a grainy cylinder transcription I’m delighted to hear an artist refreshing old gems and even making authentic new contributions to the vaudevillian tradition.
Irving Kaufman and other prolific songsters of the early years maintained a persona. Nugent now sings in a character that is truly part of him and reflects his passion for a broader spectrum of early music than we typically hear. The highlights of this album are his original songs, especially the sweet and clever “Same Again.” Making credible additions to old genres is no simple trick. He could safely creep onto a vaudeville or music hall stage—or into Edison’s recording studio—and no one would be the wiser. Traditional jazz will always have a future but I’m delighted to discover that other popular early recording styles have life in them yet.
Also Read: Drew Nugent: Hot Jazz Meets Vaudeville
Drew Nugent and The Midnight Society: Alice Blue Gown (2013)
Drew Nugent: I’ll Never Be The Same (2017)
Drew Nugent and the Midnight Society: Hot, Sweet, and Sassy (2017)