Covid 19 has instilled some artistic inspiration from some artists, and I understand why – the whole pandemic instills emotion, and I imagine that could be a powerful way to express artistry. Melissa Errico has released a two song EP, titled ‘Two Spring Songs For Summer,’ and she picks two songs that give some meaning to the times we live in. First she sings Alec Wilder’s ‘Blackberry Winter’ and it speaks to how the pandemic has surpised us, halting our lives. On the second song, ‘You Must Believe In Spring,’ the Bergmans add additional lyrics to update for our times now, but the message of hope is still there, conveyed, that if we just believe, everything will be alright. Errico sings with tenderness and hope in both, and it soothes.
If you are a Michael Bublé fan, then you probably have heard of Jumaane Smith. Smith has been playing trumpet for the crooner and his band for the past fifteen years, and the singer is very generous in giving him a spot to ‘introduce’ him to his audience. You can tell that from the live track that closes his new album, ‘When You’re Smiling.’ In it, he plays ‘You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You’ from a concert in Ireland and you can feel the thrill of the audience as he plays his trumpet and sings on the track.
You will feel that enthusiasm as you listen to this album, where he sings and plays piano. You can hear his influence – Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima – but he gives the songs a modern touch, and the sound feels instantly intimate. I love the lushness of ‘I’ll Never Smile Again.’ it’s make out music at its finest. And you know he can swing like a mf, like in ‘Is You is or Is You Ain’t My Baby.’ I think this will be one of those albums that I will love more as I listen more to it.
When pop singers get to a certain age, they inevitable do an album of standards. For me, they are either successful or not, musically speaking. A lot of them go the ‘traditional’ route, singing them to ‘classic arrangements.’ (think Rod Stewart’s standards albums) Some of them cater the songs to their particular style, and that’s when I think they are successful. These songs are a malleable bunch, and can and will work in different settings. When you think of James Taylor, you think of a certain. style – guitar, folksy, a little bit country, very personal sounding. He sings these songs just exactly how you think he would sing them, and it’s glorious. I feel as if I am listening to these songs for the first time. His easy breezy style suits most of them to a T. And it never sounds like he pigeonholed them to fit him. Listen, for example, to ‘Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat,’ and you can hear the intimate joy. And when he croons ‘My Heart Stood Still,’ his honesty is up front and center. Some of the arrangements may sound a bit too similar if you listen to this straight through, but taken as tracks, they are minor masterpieces. Standards – you’ve got a friend in James Taylor
I was sucked into a Hairspray Original Vast YouTube hole over the weekend for some reason, and funny how things change as time passes. I remember not loving the show when it first came out, though I certainly liked the cast, and thought Matthew Morrison was cute and adorable. Watching him sing ‘Without You’ now and I think he does one of the great versions of that song – so many people have done it now and his rendition is still strong in comparison. I always thought Morrison had a handsome voice, and for some reason like it a lot more over the ‘pretty boy’ voices out there. I have enjoyed his solo albums over the years, and I very much enjoyed his new one, ‘Disney Dreamin’ with Matthew Morrison.’
It’s very joyous album. Morrison just recently became a father and this inspired him to do an album of Disney. You can tell he is in ‘happy’ place, and it is infectious. He does very different arrangements of these songs and for the most part, they work. I like his takes on ‘You’ve Got A Friend In Me,’ ‘You’ll Be In My Heart,’ and I love his mash up of ‘Zip A Dee Doo Da/Bare Necessities.’ I like the more ‘character driven songs; and I thought ‘Friend In Me’ was frenetically fun. One misstep, though: his duet with Shoshana Bean doing ‘A Whole New World.’ In theory, the idea of it sounds divine, but the arrangement was off, and I felt a disconnect between them. I felt the same way about Idina Mendel and Ben Platt recently doing the same song – I think its purity is its strongest point – you touch the song too much and it falls apart.
But all in all, this album makes me smile, and nowadays anything that can do that is tops ion my book.
I am an absolute sucker for voice and guitar albums that I cannot help but love Gloria Reuben’s album ‘For All We Know,’ with guitarist Marty Ashby. I know and remember her from television series E.R. even though I never really watched that show, I knew that she sang jazz so I was looking forward to hearing this album, which was released Valentine’s Day (that seems like so long ago)
There is a good set of songs here, and Reuben’s breathy vocals match them well. Ashby’s guitar is exquisite, and I find myself listening to him on some tracks. The album is very introspective, and in these times is a welcome treat. It’s a bit of a ‘late night’ feel, though, and did not really match by morning walk to work.
Janet Dacal was playing Dina in the touring company of ‘The Band’s Visit’ when Covid 19 hit. Around the same time, she released her solo album ‘My Standards,’ from Ghostlight Records. The album is a collection of her favorite standards, done ‘her way,’ which marries a lot of her Cuban roots into the songs. What better day than Cinco de Mayo, especially now that we can only virtually party, to play this record. There used to be a time, in the mid century, when singers like Doris Day and Julie London would record Latin-themed albums. Dacal tries to bring that back here, and she is successful at it. I have heard some of these songs millions of times by now so any fresh take on it would be very welcome. Take ‘I Got rhythm’ for example – she does an explosive salsa version of this, and it works fantastically – this will get people to run quickly to the dance floor. Her improvisations are as great a match to the song as any jazz riff to it. She sings ‘Sabor A Mi’ both in English and Spanish and though I appreciate it more in its original form, I like the breathy arrangement of the English version (‘Be True To Me’) Songs like ‘Orange Coloured Sky’ and ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing’ sound more alive than ever. So grab your home version of a Margarita and luxuriate in the Latin rhythms of this album today. i bet your hips will start swaying.,
I’ve been listening to Ann Hampton Callaway for a good part of my life now that whenever I see her show, I kind of know what to expect. But I find that she can still surprise me in the best way. 54 Below At Home recently streamed her show ‘The Linda Ronstadt Songbook’ which was filmed from September 2018 and I was very glad they did because I have not seen this particular show of hers. I have always loved her and her singing standards (and her brilliant compositions) but in this show, she sings a lot of pop, even rock and roll , songs and she is just as effective, There’s a lot to mine in Rionstadt’s repertoire, ands she extracted some of the best songs. I loved her vibrant and rocking ‘You’re No Good,’ and she pairs this with the story that Linda used to sing this show live before putting it in one of her albums, and when it became a hit, started a trend of ‘reviving’ old rock and roll songs sung Linda’s way. You appreciate it more as she segues into singing ‘Blue Bayou,’ which of course Linda covers from an old Roy Orbison hit. And some of the best spots on the show is her duet with her friend Billy Stritch (who does great piano duty here) singing Linda’s two famous duets, ‘Don’t Know Much,’ and ‘Somewhere Out There.’ By the time she wrapped the show singing ‘Desperado,’ you realize how great she is honoring the music, and me wanting to listen to Linda’s originals. (It made want to add Linda’s Greatest Hits to my Spotify playlists!)
Well what do you know? It’s after Easter and we get a nice Easter treat! The best singers really can sing *anything* Audra McDonald can sing opera to show tunes to pop songs effortlessly, and of course, Laura Benanti, too. As a benefit for Food Cares. It’s a great rendition, and while I do like the original Jonas Brothers version, I think I like this more – it gives out a different softer side of the song which will make you feel that being a ‘sucker’ for someone isn’t bad at all – we are all suckers for love at least once in our lives, right? and check out the wonderful video she released:
I have to admit I am new to Kandace Springs, although I shouldn’t have – she exemplifies the kind of singer I listen to and love. And she must be very good, as she is recording for Blue Note Records. She titled her album ‘The Women Who Raised Me,’ and above all, it is a fantastic title as I feel the same way towards the same woman she is referencing. This is obviously a tribute album to some of her favorite female vocalists – from Ella and Nina and Billie to more ‘modern’ singers ones like Sade and Bonnie Raitt. She has some superstar guests in here, like Christian McBride on bass and David Sanborn on saxophone, so you know she ain’t playing. Springs has a full strong voice but not without some vulnerability, and I can tell she loves these songs, that she has lived through them, and understand the lyrics she is singing. I love her ‘The Nearness of You’ and on my Spotify app they play this with a video of her playing the piano and it enhances the aural experience. And I consider her a kindred spirit by picking to cover ‘Pearls,’ my favorite Sade song of all time. I was taken by her slow-burn ‘Killing Me Softly’ and I hear she does a great live version of ‘First Time I Ever Saw Your Face’ on her live sets. I think this is one of those albums where I will find layers with each re-listening. I cannot wait for new revelations,
Kate Rockwell is a big Broadway belter. She knows how to sell a song theater style, and this album came out in 2018 but I am aghast at myself for just discovering it. Titled ‘Back To My Roots’ the album is fantastic, and is the type of album I used to listen to incessantly, It’s a Show Girl album made especially for Show Queen. Its’ an album full of character songs, and she gives her all to sell these songs, shouting them to the rafters so even the guy at the last row gets it! She selects songs from what she calls ‘the second golden age of theater’ which she categorizes as the era from the late 70s to the late 80s. But nonetheless, the choices are all inspired, from somewhat obscure (‘Hey There Good Times’ from ‘I Love My Wife) to the uber populars (A Schonberg/Lloyd Webeer Medley that cull songs from Les Miz and Cats) Some of them, one just needs to sing perfectly to pack a punch, like ‘I’m Breaking Down’ from Falsettos and ‘Bring On The Men’ from ‘Jekyl and Hyde.” And of course any album that has ‘Song On The Sand’ gets my attention, but it isn’t the best track – she upped the tempo and it felt more like a sprint in the sand, not a leisurely walk. And there’s she’s nto subtle enough to sing Sondheim, as she breezes through ‘Now You Know/I Know Things Now.’ And the album, as a whole, seems frenetic, though it ends on a slower note, an acoustic ‘Times Like This,’ from Lucky Stoff (a hidden track from CD versions, I find out) There are people who will not like this album (they will call her a screamer) but for me it is a great frenetic listen.