A little over 75 years ago, Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire introduced “I’m Old Fashioned,” a graceful, guileless ballad that dismisses the latest trends in favor of timeless romantic verities: the glow of moonlight, the holding of hands, “the starry song that April sings.”
The song — by Jerome Kern, with Johnny Mercer‘s lyrics — forms an elegant set piece in the film musical You Were Never Lovelier (with Hayworth’s singing ghosted by Nan Wynn). It has since become a jazz standard, with dozens if not hundreds of versions on record.
Kat Edmonson, an avowed fan of Astaire’s films, probably had “I’m Old Fashioned” in the back of her mind when she wrote “Old Fashioned Gal,” the title track of an album due out in the spring. But as a socially observant singer-songwriter in a social media age, she’s also well aware that the bar for antiquarianism has moved since 1942. So instead of waxing poetic about the moon and stars, she pines for a respite from pop-up ads and notifications, for a phone “inextricably connected to a wall.”
Edmonson is already well established as an old soul; she’d have that reputation even without her recent contribution to Café Society, the Woody Allen rom-com set in 1930s Hollywood. Her previous three albums all exude a twinkly throwback charm, whether in jazz-cabaret or folksy indie-pop mode. She was, briefly and incongruously, a contestant on the second season of American Idol, where her vintage, soft-spoken style caused befuddlement among the judges.
There’s a song on Old Fashioned Gal called “Not My Time” that seems to allude to that experience, with a bit of wry comic distance. (“I auditioned to be a star,” it begins.) But Edmonson, who produced the album and wrote each of its 14 songs, isn’t looking to revive grudges here. The album is a handsome showcase for her songwriting, which has grown ever more confident over the last decade, nostalgic in tone but clear-eyed in the application.
The title track, which she sings with simple piano accompaniment, strikes a droll and knowing tone with its lyrics: It might make you think of Blossom Dearie finessing some lesser-known number by Cole Porter. But Edmonson is astute with her references, and canny about the flirtation at the center of the song. When she sings “Just come over, let’s play records,” and rhymes the last word in that phrase with “checkers,” she’s not being coy. She’s extending an invitation — while letting it be known that “Netflix and chill” isn’t her idea of a good time.
Old Fashioned Gal comes out April 27 via Palmetto Records.