Can you believe it has been ten years since that viral video of Susan Boyle’s audition for Britain’s Got Talent. I do admit that I was one of those people who was touched by it, and certainly her back story added to my appreciation of her. I like her quite a bit, and I thought that she was one of those artists who had good records,. especially the first one. It was atmospheric, and played to her strengths. I had some problems with some latter albums, but more from the uninspired song selections than anything else. I feel like she is one of those singers who is probably bet on record – I once saw her live in Las Vegas with Donny Osmond and she was suffering from a set of nerves.
Now comes ‘Ten,’ a retrospective of her best tracks from her first six albums, in addition to four new tracks. The album showcases what makes her albums soar – great renditions of ‘Wild Horses,’ “Amazing Grace,’ and of course ‘I Dreamed A Dream.’ The new tracks are also quite good: I was immediately drawn to her slowed down soulful version of ‘500 Miles,’ and her duet of ‘A Thousand Dreams’ with Michael Ball is primo. I maybe could have done with ‘Climb Every Mountain,’ but I do get it. All in all, this is a great collection of songs, and should be a great addition to any playlist.
‘A Whole New World,’ in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful songs in the Disney canon. It certainly is one of my favorites. I am certainly not alone in thinking this, as it is the one and only Disney theme song that has won the Grammy for ‘Song of the Year.’ Moreover, it has the all the elements of what a perfect songs is for a musical. I always love songs when two people first meet each other, and this song captures that moment precisely, and Tim Rice’s lyrics open up two fold: on one end, it’s a literal (magic carpet) ride akin to a lovers’ ‘first date,’ but at the same time it is also a metaphor to a start of a relationship: it’s a whole new world, we are falling in love. Lea Salonga and Brad Kane sing the song flawlessly, perfectly expressing the exhilaration, the anticipation, the promise of a first romance. I don’t think I am wrong if I declare their version will be listened to long after I am gone. And while the original ‘pop’ version is a lesser, Regina Belle and Peabo Bryson both were able to capture in their own way the essence of a song.
Cut to 2019, and we are about to get a new ‘live action’ version of the movie, directed by Guy Ritchie. I will reserve judgement on the film till I see it, but everything I have seen and heard about it points to an (artistic) failure. And then we get this: the new ‘pop’version of this song, played at the end credits, and sung by Zayn Malik and Zhavia Ward (the old fogey me says ‘who?’ regarding the latter) Malik is completely wrong for the song – his ’emo’ sensibility is the opposite of what the song needs. He sounds sad, moping, detached. He mumbles half of Tim Rice’s lyrics, and when Ward comes in, you barely notice in the difference in their voices – I had to listen in to make sure another person was dueting with him. They have zilch chemistry, and I feel like she was only chosen because their names start with the same letter. And never mind lyric interpretation and sense of character – never for one minute did I sense that the song is about two characters about to fall in love. They sound like they are singing about cat food.
So, no. As afar as I am concerned, this version is an affront to the song’s legacy. No thank you, please.
Even though I have heard all of Seth McFarlane’s albums, I never seem to come back to any pf them. His new album, ‘Once In A While’ may just change that. This album, in my opinion, is his best so far – it’s moody and melancholy, and it feels like an oil painting, and maybe that’s why the album cover is of a painting of him. He has compared this album to a Sinatra torch album, and I think he has achieved that. I think what I loved most about this album is the intelligent and emotional arrangements by Andrew Cottee. There’s an underlying sensitive sadness in the way the songs are presented, and it helps bring out the lushness of the lyrics. My favorite is his version of Peggy Lee’s ‘There’ll Be Another Spring.’ And of course, nothing beats an Irving Berlin ballad, and he interprets the tearfullness out of ‘What’ll I Do,’ and ‘They Say It’s Wonderful.’ There is such tenderness and longing in ‘You Are Too Beautiful’ that made me openly weep.
But of course, some people will think this too weepy and overly sad. But for someone like me who thrives in melancholy, this is pure bliss.
As a show, I can take ‘Dear Evan Hanson,’ even though I have problems with its score. I mean, is it just me, or does every Pasek and Paul song sound exactly the same? There’s no denying Ben Platt is great in it, though, and make the songs sound much better. But his style is molded in that modern melisma vocal-fry style that I really at times despise. I know Platt did a version of ‘Maria’ from West Side Story that was full of those things, and I cringed when I heard it.
So call me surprised when I that I liked his debut album, ‘Sing To Me Instead.’ First of all, his vocal style is muted. I always say, let the songs showcase your voice and it will shine on its own, no need for extraneous exercises. His songs may not much variety in style, but he expresses the emotions in them with great authenticity. They are also cohesive in message – songs about love and heartbreak that you can tell come from the same point of view, making them more personal and heartfelt. I especially like three songs best: “Grow as We Go,’ wherein he sings about maybe being apart as they grow together. There’s also ‘Older,’ which has the wise line of ‘When you are younger, you wish you’re older, and when you’re older, you’ll wish for life to turn around.’ And of course, damn if I can’t relate to ‘Bad Habit’ wherein he just can;t seem to let go of someone, as he expresses the need for that person to be in his life. All in all, the album is quite layered, and I bet as I listen to it even more I will be able to peel more out of it. Much has been written about Platt ‘coming out’ via the first music video for this album. but it hardly matters nowadays. Think of him as a more localized Sam Smith, just as relateable, just as bombastic.
On New Year’s Eve this year, I was watching Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin Eve (with Ryan Seacrest, natch) and saw Weezer performing Toto’s ‘Africa.’ OMG, they covered this song? I exclaimed and everyone around me said duh – it’s a big radio hit now. I couldn’t wrap my head around it, and I guess it was also conflicting the fact that I also cannot wrap my head around how Rivers Cuomo looks much older now, though he still looks decidedly boyish. I wish I could say I loved their cover of the song – it is solid, for sure, but did they really add anything to the song, besides Cuomo’s excellent guitar riffs. But, I guess I do get why it worked, and I can see how millennials think they re so cool listening to the song.
But even more interesting is that Weezer has released a whole covers album, with a teal background album art, hence its called ‘The Teal Album.’ I have a fondness for this band, and during my CD days collected their stuff. This one is a solid album with great renditions of songs like ‘Happy Together’ and ‘Paranoid.’ But the great thing about it ? It sounds like a Weezer album, even as they cover songs I never thought they would ever do – like ‘Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This’ and ‘Take On Me’ I love the fact that the songs sound like Weezer performing these songs. I mean, a rockin cover of Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’? The kid is not my son!
I was listening to ‘Under The Influence’ by Vickie Van Dyke, and there was a certain something I noticed in her singing – there seemed to be a lot of passion here, and I could feel instantly her love of the material.
Then I read the ‘back story’ of the album. Apparently, she recorded this as a tribute to her mother. who had recently gone to hospice. She was struck by the kindness of the people she encountered there and pledged all the sales of the album to go to the facility, Hospice Wellington, in Ontario Canada. She also recorded this a tribute to her mother, who introduced her to the Great American Songbook. After learning this, I loved the album even more. Her love for the music fills every second of the album. While she doesn’t posses the most technically proficient, but I like it’s smoky and husky quality. And there is certainly care in her lyric interpretation. My favorite track is ‘Let’s Make The Most Of A Beautiful Thing,’ which I know from Nancy Wilson. her slightly quivering interpretation gives it a lot of gravitas. I don’t know why I have been so enamoured by that song of late, perhaps from where my life is right now? But truly, the rest of the album is a good listen.
What a way to start the New Year but with an album titled ‘Starting Here Starting Now.’ It is by Cornelia Luna, who I remember being one of the Kims in the Original Broadway Cast of Miss Saigon. Initially, I thought that the album would be Broadway songs but I read up and saw that the inspiration of the album is Barbra Streisand. These are songs that are associated with Barbra, and she culls from the earlier albums, when Streisand was singing arrangements by Peter Matz. Backed by the Bill King Trio, Luna sings with jazzy inflections. I don’t dislike her interpretations, but I probably have to get used to these arrangements of her songs. I don’t know if her stylings, for example, work on a song like ‘Will Someone Ever Look At me That Way?’ a song so personal that this version seems cold and impersonal. But on ‘Gotta Move,’ you can tell that Luna knows how to interpret and sing songs her way. And on the title track, there’s a high reached there that tells the full story of the lyric. It is interesting to me that she chose to sing songs from Barbra’s last duet album, ‘Any Moment Now,’ and ‘Loving You,’ (the former she duets with Gavin Hope) because stylistically they are very different from Barbra’s early material and they really don’t gel well together, but that is forgiven by her tender ‘I Had Myself A True Love,’ my favorite track from the album.