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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Cabaret singer Maude Maggart has show-biz bonafides. Her grandparents performed together in a swing band in the 1930's and 40's. Her parents met in the original cast of the Broadway musical, 'Applause.' Her little sister is pop star Fiona Apple. And Maude Maggart has been getting rave reviews for her shows and albums, as Jeff Lunden reports.

JEFF LUNDEN reporting:

New York Times cabaret critic, Stephen Holden says singer Maude Maggart, who's only 30-years-old, seems to embody a past musical era.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. STEPHEN HOLDEN (Music Critic, New York Times): She has a kind of gramophone quality in her voice, sometimes, that makes you think of an old recording.

Ms. MAUDE MAGGART (Cabaret Singer): (Singing) You keep coming back like a song; a song that keeps saying remember...

Mr. HOLDEN: She also has this eerie quality about her, and she's very beautiful and she dresses the part, so that she seems to inhabit various archetypes, depending on what it was she's performing, whether it's a flap or a torch singer...

Ms. MAGGART: (Singing) How much do I love you, I'll tell you no lie. How deep is the ocean? How high is the sky?

LUNDEN: While Maude Maggart grew up in a household in New York City filled with music from the Grateful Dead to Laura Nyro, from classical symphonies to salsa and merengue, she finds herself drawn to popular songs from the first half of the 20th century.

Ms. MAGGART: I think, for me, nothing speaks more profoundly and simply and deeply about emotional life than many of the songs from the American popular song book. There's just this magic that happens between lyric and melody that is almost in a time capsule that happened then.

(Singing) Come on and hear, come on and hear, Alexander's Ragtime Band. Come on and hear, come on and hear, it's the best band in the land. They can play a bugle call like you never heard before, so natural that you want to go to war. That's just the bestest band what am, honey lamb, come on along...

LUNDEN: Maggart says she came to cabaret by chance, when, as a teenager, her father took her to see Andrea Marcovicci perform in a club in Los Angeles.

Ms. MAGGART: I'd never seen anything like it, and I thought it was so magical and special what could happen in a little room, and the fact that I could be affected so deeply--so moved.

LUNDEN: Marcovicci became a mentor to Maggart, as has singer and musical historian Michael Feinstein. He met Maggart years ago when she and her sister used to attend musical gatherings at lyricist Marshall Barer's house. Feinstein says he particular appreciates Maude Maggart's attention to lyrics--to convey the emotional core of a song.

Mr. MICHAEL FEINSTEIN (Musical Historian): I think any great singer has an innate ability to communicate with an audience. Maude has that incredible presence that one cannot learn. It is something that evolves through the years as one performs, and I have heard Maude perform from the time she was very, very young, when she was, I guess, 11 or 12.

Ms. MAGGART: (Singing) Shall I, my love, compare thee to a bowl of rum, or summer's day, and (unintelligible) or Malibu, (unintelligible), Ravel or Mel Torme?

LUNDEN: 'Beyond Compare,' with lyrics by Marshall Barer. Maude Maggart says she wants each of her cabaret shows to take the audience on a journey, and she develops them thematically. One show looked at songs from 1933 at the height of the depression; another, love songs from the swing band era, in tribute to her grandparents. Her last show, and most recent album, explored the songs of Irving Berlin.

Ms. MAGGART: (Singing) Pack up your things and go to the devil in Hades. You'll need the finest of gentlemen and the finest of ladies. They'd rather be down below than up above. Hades is full of (unintelligible); Jones and Browns, O'Houlihans, Collins, and Bradys.

Irving Berlin can fill you with joy and make you want to dance, and fill you with a sense of lust for life, and he can, you know, make you want to crawl under your covers and cry, you know.

(Singing) What'll I do when you are far away, and I am blue? What'll I do? What'll I do when I am wondering who is kissing you? What'll I do?

LUNDEN: Maggart isn't content to sing just familiar songs in her shows. She likes to uncover lyrics that aren't in the sheet music, or counter melodies that are rarely performed. When she was putting together her Irving Berlin show, she found some little-known tunes.

Ms. MAGGART: I was very interested in how he became what I consider to be the quintessential American popular songwriter and I decided to concentrate on his early days. So, I discovered a lot of songs from his lower east side days, when he was a struggling singing waiter on the bowery. One of my favorites is 'The Yiddishe Nightingale.'

(Singing) Yeddishe nightingale, sing me a song. You're voice has got such sweetness that it makes me strong...

LUNDEN: Maude Maggart says she's gratified to see a lot of young people in her audience discovering songs they might not be familiar with.

Ms. MAGGART: I love bringing that different kind of magic that really only existed then, I think, into lives of people who otherwise might not be exposed to it, because you really have to stumble upon it as I did, and I came from a musical family, but I stumbled upon this kind of music.

LUNDEN: Audiences can stumble upon Maude Maggart and her music at New York's Algonquin Hotel until February 25, then she'll be performing in Los Angeles and San Francisco. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

MONTAGNE: You can hear more from Maude Maggert, and additional musical selections, including a duet with her sister Fiona Apple, at NPR.org.

Ms. MAGGART: (Singing) Everything went wrong and the whole day long I'd feel so blue...

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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