And Then There’s Ben (Music Thoughts: Sing To Me Instead, Ben Platt)

810erx6KzPL._SY355_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.

If Teal Street Could Talk (Music Thoughts: The Teal Album, Weezer)

d380b9-20190124-weezer-teal-albumOn 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!


Starting from Barbra’s Start (Music Thoughts: Starting Here Starting Now, Cornelia Luna)

cornelia-luna-starting-here-starting-now-cd-cover-tmr-december-2018What 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.

A Yearwood of Frank (Music Thoughts: Let’s Be Frank, Trisha Yearwood)

img35cTrisha Yearwood has released a new album, but here’s the twist. For now, it is only available at Williams Sonoma, and due for a February wide release.  It’s a collection of standards, specifically a tribute to Frank Sinatra. And of course something like this would be right up my alley.

As far as singer-does-standards go, this one is pretty sweet. Her voice is nice and full, and you can tell that she loves these songs – she knows them and you don’t get a sense that she just learned them that day at the recording studio. She is careful with the lyrics, treating them with proper care. And even though I know this is a Sinatra tribute, she includes songs that are not the most obvious choices – songs like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘If I Loved You ‘ (my favorite track here) and ‘Over The Rainbow’ get included. And when she dips into his cannon, she makes sure she offers something new and different. On ‘Witchcraft,’ for example, she sings the rarely-heard verse. For me, the album skews on the more conservative side, but that is just me. I think I would have liked this more had she done this country style = can you imagine a honky tonk bar version of ‘One For My Baby?’  But overall, this is a great record, and one that might be worth a trip to Williams Sonoma for.

What’s To Love (Music Thoughts: love, Michael Buble)

611713_1It’s Christmas Eve and I bet you a lot of stockings have Michael Buble’s new album ‘Love’ int hem/ Do people still do that, though? Buy physical music? Buble is a crowd-pleaser, for sure, and his new disc is  a safe gift – you just know whoever you give it to will love it.

i didn’t much like this album, and tat even surprised me because I have loved his records for the most part. I thought this lacked something – energy. Ir felt perfunctory. I felt he was uninspired and to my ears, it showed. And I can’t figure out why – David Foster is producing, and one of my favorite pianists Alan Broadbent is on the helm as well. Why else would they do  ‘suspenseful’ arrangement of ‘My Funny Valentine,’ one of the most romantic songs ever written? And he couldn’t even make ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’ syrupy sweet. I like Charlie Puth and his song here ”Love You Anymore’ fell flat (I had to listen to it a couple of times to be sure) There is a bright spot in ‘La Vie En Rose,’ but maybe because he duets it with Cecile McLorin Salvant, and she is fantastic. I know Buble has gone through a lot the past couple of months, so I will give him a pass.

In Martel’s Holiday (Music Thoughts: Christmastime Is Here, Marc Martel)

51-nq6UeJyL._SS500I have no idea who Marc Martel is, but Spotify ‘recommended’ his Christmas EP to me, so I listened.  And it was okay – very live and bright. I found out that Martel provided some of the Freddie Mercury vocals in the film ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’  I had the impression that Rami Malik did those vocals, but apparently they also used Martel’s voice and they made everything sound seamless.  I am by no means a Mercury expert but apparently Martel has a voice that is very similar. And then I found out that Martel is a Christian, and writes and sings religious music. But I guess if he consented to singing Freddie Mercury songs, then he probably isn’t the very preachy kind.

The EP is okay, and as I said, it has a lot of rhythm and the songs and arrangements are nice enough to make an impression on me. And it;s not as overtly religious as I thought – he even covers Mariah’s ‘All I Want For Christmas.’  It’s all nice and good very alive, and could be good pick=up music for the Holidays. You can listen to it in the car on the way to seeing relatives you don;t want to see.

Feliz David-ad (Music Thoughts: Baby It’s Christmas, David Campbell)

220px-Baby_It's_Christmas_by_David_CampbellI remember David Campbell from his New York City Cabaret days, and I remember he was one of the first people to sing the wonderful song ‘Grateful,’ composed by John Buccino. But then he kind of disappeared and I know he has enjoyed more success in his native Australia, and if I am not mistaken, he is now some kind of television presenter there.  And now he has released a new Holiday album, ‘Baby It’s Christmas,’ and it’s a nice pleasant album. I wish I could describe it better, but really, that’s all it is. It has a nice solid Holiday repertoire – your ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ mixed in with a ‘Jingle Bells.’ The arrangements will please everyone, and I like that he covers Harry Connick Jr’s ‘When My Heart Finds Christmas.’ Australian Rick Price has an original for him, the title track, and yes, it’s all really easy to listen to. But it’s also kind of generic, and does not take any risk at all. It would be a hit for department stores. I guess when you hear these songs over and over, you kind of look for a little edge. There’s none here.