- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 29, 2008

Clare Muldaur Manchon lives in Ditmas Park, a cozy Brooklyn neighborhood full of neo-Tudor houses and century-old Victorians. The area is quaint and spacious, two adjectives rarely used when describing New York City’s boroughs. While Manhattan pulses and throbs several miles to the west, Ditmas Park remains relatively serene, a quiet reminder of what life was like before the subway arrived.

Like those elegant Ditmas homes, the nostalgic music of Clare & the Reasons is rooted in another, simpler time. The group mixes jazz influences with orchestral pop, creating a sound that evokes Billie Holiday, old Hollywood movie soundtracks, and even the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds.” Appropriately, legendary composer Van Dyke Parks lent a hand to the band’s debut album, “The Movie.”

“He’s been a family friend for years,” explains Mrs. Manchon.

Spending time with famous musicians is not uncommon for Mrs. Manchon. Her father, Geoff Muldaur, is an Emmy-winning singer/songwriter whose resume dates back to the 1960s.

While growing up on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Clare surrounded herself with the diverse music of her dad and his friends. She also developed a passion for Billie Holiday. “The moment I first heard her,” she recalls, “my life was forever influenced and inspired. Her voice was like drowning in honesty. I grew up listening to mostly pre-‘50s black American music … and I felt lucky to have a glimpse into great soulful music so early in life.”



Motivated to launch her own career, Clare enrolled at the Berklee School of Music and began to study jazz. “I wanted to live in that musical bubble and study things I didn’t know how to do,” she says of the prestigious school. “I also enjoyed jazz composition and liked the challenge of working within boundaries, because sometimes that brings you to new musical ideas.”

Jazz forms the base of Clare & the Reasons’ approach to songwriting; not jazz in the Louis Armstrong sense, but the stylish, sophisticated sounds that belong in late-night cocktail lounges and film noir. These songs brim with string sections, vocal harmonies and lush arrangements, most of which were plotted out by Clare’s husband (and former Berklee classmate), Oliver Manchon. Clare serves as the band’s vocalist and chief songwriter, and the married couple is joined by the rest of the Reasons: Alan Hampton, Christopher Hoffman, Beth Meyers, Greg Ritchie and Bob Hart.

Squeezing seven members onto a small stage can be difficult, but Mrs. Manchon has precious few complaints about the lineup. “We have a very easy way of getting along,” she says, “and no one is weird or stinky, so tours go smoothly.”

The band will hit the road this fall for a four-month tour, the longest string of shows they’ve ever scheduled. Mrs. Manchon plans to ward off boredom by starting a “book bin” in the van, but being an enthusiastic reader doesn’t mean she takes all her inspiration from novels. Eastern Manhattan serves as the setting for “Alphabet City,” while “Cook For You” shows a woman struggling to accept her lover’s death.

Mrs. Manchon also derives inspiration from astronomy. Pluto, which lost its certification as a planet in 2006, is the subject of two songs. “Chin up, Pluto,” she sings on the opening track, while violins and cellos strike up a waltz in the background. “The stars still want you, and we down here do, too.” Ten songs later, the Reasons bring their album to an appropriate conclusion with “Pluton,” a French version of that first track, replete with theremins making flying-saucer sounds during the instrumental breaks.

“I like the bookend effect of [those two songs] very much,” Mrs. Manchon says. “Sort of like a painting of the same image with different techniques and colors.”

Clare & the Reasons are signed to Frog Stand Records, a label that Mrs. Manchon helps operate. Her reasons for becoming a label rep are simple: “I wanted to create a nurturing environment for music, as well as a support system for music that doesn’t fit into a stylistic box.”

While she’s away from the office, Mrs. Manchon will concentrate on her band’s own style, which they’ll introduce to the D.C. area this weekend.

m Clare & the Reasons will stop by the Iota Club on June 29. The show begins at 8:30 p.m.

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