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.
Sometimes all you need is seven songs to make a mark. Hiromi Kanda titled her new album ‘Seven Elegant Ballads,’ and it’s not false advertising. It only takes a second to impress me (or not) and I definitely was enamored by her voice quickly. She sings these seven songs (five standards and two originals) with soulful honesty that you cannot help but be taken by her music right away. Her husband, Yusuke Hoguchi has crafted classic arrangement that showcase these songs and her voice impeccably. And that voice – so fully soulful that you know she knows she feels every lyric of these songs even though (I assume) that English is not her first language. Emotion really is universal, it seems. I like that her ‘Smile’ is not too melancholy – there is an uplifting message in her version. And ‘Moonlight in Vermont’ sounds like a song you hear as you look into a big moon. Surprisingly, I even like the originals – ‘Days of Yesterday’ is a pleasant surprise (I read it was a hit for her years ago) Don’t sleep on these seven ballads.
I had the wrong idea. I knew that Luke Evans started in musical theater so I thought his first album would have songs from that genre. Or at the very least, I thought it would be an album of standards. But ‘At Last’ is mostly an album of pop covers. At first, I was a little disappointed by this, as I was expecting him to cover songs similar to ‘Gaston,’ from Beauty and the Beast. To be honest, I dismissed the album already. But I kept listening to it, and as I did, I started to like specific tracks one by one. I love the bombastic ‘Kissing You,’ and its harsh arrangement grew on me. And I know ‘First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ from Roberta Flack’s original version, and I thought he did the song well here, infusing it with the right amount of tenderness and vulnerability. Although I never really warmed up to his versions of ‘With or Without You,’ (too much of the same) and ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’ (I mean, don’t cover Cher) I appreciated that he did ‘Bring Him Home’ to at least give me a taste of his musical theater chops, though I think I would have preferred him to sing ‘Why God Why’ as I know he played Chris in the West End production of Miss Saigon. In the end, I appreciated this album more, and respect it.
The first thing that got my attention when I started listening to Jen Fellman’s album ‘Forbidden Drive’ was her version of ‘Happiness,’ from Stephen Sondheim’s Passion. She does this duet with another woman. I always thought of this song as such a representation of queer love, and thought Fellman was most insightful interpreting a such. I was mesmerized by her version and started playing the track over and over.
The rest of the album is just as good. She has very thoughtful arrangements of a great collection of songs. There is a very contemplative ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well,’ which is underscored by ‘It Might As Well Be Spring.’ I also like she does lesser-heard songs like Jerry Herman’s ‘Wherever He Ain’t’ and ‘I Win’t Send Roses,’ and these are my two favorite Herman songs. I like her mostly unsentimental version of the latter, with a more urgent tempo. Fellman lived in Paris and I appreciated her French chansons, and I know she gives good character because she knows how to sing Peggy Lee’s ‘Golden Earrings..’ All I know is that I keep on discovering new layers whenever I hear songs from this album, so I will keep on listening.