But not only flawless: rich and convincing. Although Luker and Wilfert have different voices when singing separately, they can sound almost identical when singing together. (They have the same singing teacher.) When they listened to replay, they couldn’t always tell who was who. In duets like “You are my best friend” (the charming opener) and “Isn’t it better?” (A torch song by Kander and Ebb became a hymn of sisterly support here.) Something sublime happens when the two voices that blend so closely seem to multiply, even if they do fuse.
This effect is at its peak in the album’s finale, an unexpected pairing of Patty Griffin’s song “Be Careful” with “Dear Theodosia,” a number Aaron Burr sang to his young daughter on “Hamilton”. As listed by Luker and Wilfert, “Theodosia” feels like a promise made by today’s women to their spiritual daughters to leave them a safer world. “Be Careful”, whose lyric “All the Girls” lends the title, is extremely ambivalent and celebrates the strength of women, but also their fragility – and ends in this arrangement with a daring, unresolved harmony.
Which just feels right. As strong as the album is – five poetry settings by Thalken are particularly charming – it is inevitably wrapped in a shroud of loss. I don’t just mean the loss of Luker himself. Her type of voice (and Wilfert’s) is gradually being pushed out of musical theater as classically trained sopranos of the kind described in “Not Funny” give way to Kelli O’Hara at the concert will sing on Tuesday. Most of the new works are written for belts.
The greater loss is of course personal. Many of us in mourning a loved one are grateful for any part of our voice that is retained on a phone message or video. This is not Burstein’s situation. He has heard many of Luke’s albums. The problem is that, while comforting, they are also devastating – especially on “All the Girls”, the final medley with its aching Griffin lyric: “Be careful how you bend me / Be careful how you send me / Be careful like you and me. “
In any case, the albums are what Luker gave us, not him. After 20 years of marriage, Burstein misses her private voice more than her public voice: the one he heard while driving was spent harmonizing himself with the hits of the 70s on the radio.
“Now it’s just me and the radio,” he says.
By comparison, the rest of us are lucky. When we hear “All the Girls”, in some ways Luke’s funniest and wisest album, we can have them sing beside us forever.
Rebecca Luker and Sally Wilfert
Becca: A night full of stories and songs in memory of Rebecca Luker
May 4th at 7:30 p.m.