See That Cher What that Scene (Music Thoughts: Dancing Queen, Cher)

0093624904342_p0_v1_s550x406Cher and Abba is the gayest combination since Ethel Merman and Disco and the resulting project, ‘Dancing Queen’ is as fabulous as you think it would be. Sure, Cher even thinks that the whole idea is an afterthought – she recorded ‘Fernando’ for the Mamma Mia sequel over the summer and thought, sure why not record a full album of ABBA covers. Indeed, this seems to be one of the best ideas since Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination (that’s sarcasm, by the way)  This album isn’t just karaoke, this is Cher, and even though Mark Taylor’s production skews very close to the original arrangements. you still get the depth of a Cher interpretation. Take for example ‘Dancing Queen,’ which in theory could be the throwaway track. I found Cher’s lyrical interpretation to be a more soulful, because you believe her as she mouths the lyrics. This is not your peer telling you about having fun, this is your mother telling you to. And you can sense that she is having fun as she is telling you to have fun, and the whole track is more fun that you have ever listened to in a whole while. As a matter of fact, Cher’s vocals have never sound more textured – she brings conviction to the fluffy lyrics, giving them just enough gravitas. I find more things about it as I listen to it more. Even a song like ‘One Of Us,’ which I don’t particularly like (I don’t really like a lot of Abba songs as sung by Abba, if I am going to be honest) seems a lot more in her slowed down version. I am enjoying this album a lot more than I thought I would, and baby, there’s no guilt.

Dearly Detached (Music Thoughts: Love Is Here To Stay, Tony Bennett and Diana Krall)

202828615Every year, around my birthday, as if a gift, one of my favorite ‘divas’ always has a new album out the same week.  This year, it’s Diana Krall. That’s not necessarily the worst thing int he world, and her album, ‘Love Is Here To Stay,’ is a duets album with Tony Bennett, and they are singing an all-Gershwin program. I always wonder how Bennett, at 92, can still sing the way he does. Close your eyes and you could swear it’s still his mid-century crooning. In this album, they are backed by Bill Charlap, I mean, he’s no slouch.

Color me unimpressed, though. As a whole, i did not like the album at all. I did not like the mingling of Krall’s and Bennett’s voices. She seems timid, he seems to be bored. And you have to really pay attention to Charlap’s tricky piano playing – Bennett got his groove on with him on that Jerome Kern album from a couple of years ago. Here it felt like both were still trying to find their way with him. There are production photos and videos from the time this album was recorded, but I sense chilly chemistry between the two singers. I know the record has been garnering great reviews, so I feel like a contrarian here. Maybe I will listen more and change my mind, but right now, it’s an unfortunate thumbs down for me.

Like A Flower (Music Thoughts: Bloom, Troye Sivan)

bloomI have been listening to Troye Sivan’s album ‘Bloom’ for a couple of days now and I don’t know if I really ‘get’ it. It’s unlike a lot of pop album nowadays: it’s soft, quiet, really delicate, kind of like a flower. I have been waiting for it to, ahem, bloom, but it hasn’t, yet, to me. But, I can’t stop listening to it. Sure, it is an assured piece, from an unapologetic gay man of today. and perhaps I am much too insecure and self-conscious to relate to it, but again I…can’t…stop…listening.

And it’s not like he has songs with great hooks.  Most of his tunes try to go somewhere, but the journey of most of it is gettign there, not the destination. No fake braggadocio here (like Charlie Puth) or soft sensitivity (like Shawn Mendes)  because the point of view here is more stern: he’s horny, he is obsessed, he is in love. And maybe I can’t stop listening because I also get those feelings.

Take ‘Bloom,’ the title track for example. Much has been said about its true meaning, and he has even confirmed it is about bottoming for the first time, but there’s a sweet message there, in the heart of it. It’s me finally giving myself to you, because that is truly how I feel. And on ‘Seventeen,’ we are all young gay men – trying to look for our sexual place in the world, unaware and naive to everything (This generation is at least lucky it has Grindr, during my time the world was a tougher map to navigate) I think I can identify most with how he can obsess and overthink love. My favorite track is probably ‘Postcards,’ which captures that time when you put your guard down and show vulnerability to someone, and you wait on how they are going to respond. We have all taken that risk, and know that feeling.

Maybe I don’t need to ‘get’ the album. Maybe it has already gotten me.

Stoked On Stokke (Music Thoughts: A Piece Of Lisa, Lisa Stokke & Kringkastingsorkesteret)

R-2912069-1306939275.jpegThere’s a sub-genre of musical theater related recordings that I particularly love – albums by female theater artists. I think Spotify knows that as well (based on my listening habits) because they recently recommended an album” ‘A Piece of Lisa,’ by someone named Lisa Stokke. ( I learn later that album is from 2006) I have no idea who she is, so I googled her. Ahh – she is Norweigan singer/actress, and was in the original London Cast of Mamma Mia. She also sang the official Norwegian version of ‘Let It Go,’ so I know she can definitely sing. And she has a great theater repertoire: ‘Cabaret,’ ‘Someone Like You,’ ‘The Sound of Music,’ among others. She sings them capably well, though at times, I wish she would out her own stamp in them. I still think it’s kind of weird for an adult to sing both ‘Maybe/Tomorrow’ from Annie, but hey, whatever crumbles your cookie. And I am kinda glad she sings ‘Macavity’ here because not a lot of people do (but should she?)  All in all, I can listen to this with no guilt.

Where Is The Wild? (Music Thoughts: Wild And Free, Jessica Vosk)

51RfjVOLtQLPost ‘Wicked,’ female Broadway singers now usually fall under two categories: the brassy belters (the Elphaba type) or the sassy sopranos (the Galindas)  I am of course generalizing, but I guess this has been true for a while (see Ethel Merman vs Mary Martin)  Jessica Vosk falls under the former, for sure. I mean, she is the current Elphaba on Broadway. ‘Wild and Free’ is her debut album, funded through crowd-sourcing.

The album is *exactly* what I thought it would sound. It’s not really totally show tunes, because she is probably influenced by pop music. But there’s a fair number of show songs there, and they are not bad. I am glad she sang ‘Nobody’s Side,’ from Chess, for example, although in my opinion, her version is good but nothing I haven’t heard before. Her ‘Music That Makes Me Dance’ is competent, but I still hear Idina doing Barbra in her version. I paid attention a little bit more on her medlette of ‘Help/Sondheim’ (The Beatles and Sondheim do not make a bad combination) and ‘It All Fades Away,’ from The Bridges of Madison County might make into one of those I can take out of context but you know, the typical Jason Robert Brown tuneless mess. (Sutton Foster does it too on her new album)  Elsewhere in the album, I found some uninspired moments: a predictable song from ‘the Greatest Showman’ (A Million Dreams) and an all-too-familiar belter choice (Sia’s “Chandelier, always a yawn-inducer from me)  So there are some mixed reactions from me here.

The Sunday Morning After (Music Thoughts: You Raise Me Up: A Spiritual Journey, Maureen McGovern)

CD34012The very first thing I noticed upon seeing the cover of Maureen McGovern’s new album. ‘You Raise Me Up: A Spiritual Journey,’ is that she is now wearing her hair long. I have been so used to her sort boyish hair cut over the year that I was momentarily jarred. I think she kind of looks like Lynda Carter with her longer locks. But rest assured, she still sounds like the Maureen McGovern I have known and loved. I was also a little bit surprised that she has recorded an inspirational album, but then again I don’t know why I am. Apparently, she recorded this album to comfort people during these troubled times, and why not. It’s funny because the album really feels warm and cozy, enlightening, enveloping. I always like great soulful interpretations of these songs, especially those where you can feel their faith as they interpret these songs. Take for example her ‘Amazing Grace’ here. It soars, and even though I have heard this song so many times, there’s still something here that touched me immensely. And her version here of songs like ‘The Rose’ and ‘Turn Turn Turn’ make me feel heavier meanings. I felt like the songs have a different more soul-searching meanings. I really like this album, and perhaps the Universe needed to send me this album right now. An added bonus – her 45th Anniversary of ‘The Morning After,’ is this version is just as powerful, almost set in a different light than the original, but just as piercing. Yes, Raise Me, Maureen.

Tell Me From Tel Aviv (Music Thoughts: Echo Of A Heartbeat, Tamuz Nissim)

tamTamuz Nissim is from Tel Aviv and she has released a jazz album. Singers who sing standards always fascinate me because it shows that these songs touch everyone all over the world. But I also read that Nissim has been living in New York since 2015. Perhaps that is why I don’t really hear any of her ethnicity in this album. ‘Echo Of A Heartbeat’ sounds just like another generic jazz album, and those are the worst kinds. I honestly would rather hear one with bad qualities than these ones that you can never distinguish from one another. She doesn’t have a bad voice – it’s thin and reedy but malleable. She sings with a quartet led on piano by James Weidman. Her standards, like ‘Just Squeeze Me,’ and ‘What A Little Moonlight Can Do,’ aren’t bad. They are just worse by being boring. And she can be self-indulgent by inserting some of her tuneless originals. This could have been something, but now it’s just blah.