Look, I am as big a Fanilow as you can get, so I was waiting with bated breath for ‘Night Songs II,’ Barry Manilow’s new album, which was released on Valentine’s Day this year. If for anything, he knows his audience, and he knows his fans would lap up a collection of love songs from him on the most romantic day of the year. This is a follow up to his Night Songs album from 2014, and the set up is just him and his piano. This is as intimate as you can get with Barry without marrying him and diehard fans of his will truly enjoy this. But if I have to be truly honest, his voice has sen better days. He was never the best vocalist, but the clarity is gone and you can hear him strain to reach some notes. Still, he sings the lyrics with a lot of heart. You can feel he knows and loves these songs inside and out, and the arrangements, which I will assume he is responsible for, captures that late-night contemplative quality that few people can interpret (In my opinion, Julie London was the master of this) And of course, the song selection is impeccable – from ‘Isn’t It A Pty,’ to ‘Everything Happens To Me, ‘ to ‘Moonlight in Vermont.’ He does a slow and melancholy arrangement of ‘I’m Old Fashioned’ that I was really taken by. Can you imagine if he produced these arrangements for someone else (Midler, maybe?) how they could bring new magic to the songs and the arrangements? I don’t know if I would ever specifically pull this album to listen to, but the songs are on my daily playlist, and I will happily stop and listen whenever one of these tracks come on.
I discovered Emma Lindars’ album ‘As We Grow Older’ last Holiday season because I was looking for versions of Mariah Carey’s ‘Miss You Most At Christmas,’ and she has one in this album. I researched her and found out she is a UK-based theater performer. I liked her version of the Holiday song just fine, but asked myself – is there a reason for the cover version to exist? While there is no doubt that she can sing, she follows all of Carey’s inflections and melisma. In this album, she does mostly the same to most of the songs – do we really need karaoke-ready versions of ‘Chandelier,’ or ‘Rolling In The Deep,’ for example. I perfked up a little bit that she chose to sing ‘Aint It Good’ from ‘Children of Eden,’ and I can tell she can do subtle with her version of ‘With Every Breath I Take’ from City of Angels. But she really doesn’t do much with her versions besides sing them. She sings them well, but…there has to be more, I think.
One look at Lisa Addeo’s album cover and you know exactly what her ‘brand’ is – chanteuse. She claims that the vintage microphone she is holding in that photograph once belonged to Frank Sinatra, and she recorded her album at the same Capitol Studios where Ol Blue Eyes recorded his classic recordings. i wish her album was more memorable. Addeo sings in a soft whispery voice which gives the impression of sexy and sultry. The arrangements of her songs veer towards late-night boom-boom music. She definitely knows what she is trying to sell, The thing is, I am not buying any of it. The whole sound seems so manufactured that I did not get a minute of ‘authentic’ in there. Plus, is it just her ‘style,’ or does she strain to reach some of the notes? This whole album is forgettable, and the more I take it out of my mind, the better.
Look, I adore love songs as much as anyone else, but there are some I really wouldn’t mind not hearing again because they are so overplayed. And the snob that I am thinks some of them are just too popular. In Anthony Nuziata’s ‘the Love Album,’ he managed to pull and record some of these too-familiar songs. I mean, I am not asking you to do the most obscure ones, but is it too much to ask for a little inspiration? Nunzaiata has a nice voice – it has a tender quality in it that I like a lot – but I just lose interest right away when I sense a song that I have no desire in hearing. To his credit, I appreciate that he included the verses in his versions of ‘The Very Thought Of You,’ and ‘When I Fall In Love,’ but I don’t want ot hear another version of ‘Feelin Good,’ which I think is one of the most over-sung song nowadays (Thank you, Michael Buble) Those with not too much imagination may enjoy this album, but I am surely much too jaded for it.
I chanced upon Ana Lasota’s album ‘Essence’ on Spotify. I guess it was recommended to me because of my interest in musical theater. It’s weird that there isn’t much information on the internet about Lasota even though her Amazon page describes her as “one of the best Polish voices on the musical theatre and film scene in Poland.” but no matter, it’s all about the music, right, and she sings these theater songs fantasticaly. She is blessed with a clear soprano that has a wonderful range, and when she sings these musical theater songs, you do not get the impression that she is ‘slumming.’ My favorite tracks are the ones where she sings in Polish, and we get three here: ‘Aldonza’ ‘I Could Have Danced All Night,’ and ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him.’ You can sense great connection tot he lyrics even if I don’t know how to speak a lick of Polish. The rest of the album is just as stellar, though I don’t really know why people keep on including ‘You Raise Me Up’ in theater music-centric albums. Even if you have not heard of her, this recording is worth seeking out.
I was never a huge fan of Taylor Swift, though, of course, she has been in my peripheral. I had her records of course (back when I used to collect them as physical pieces) and her songs are on my playlists, but I never stop and truly listen. But after watching ‘Miss Americana,’ I have a new found respect for her. I admit I am guilty of sometimes dismissing her, and I often cite the alleged Quincy Jones quote that he told her ‘a hook doesn’t make a song’ (I don’t know if that is an authetic quote, to be honest) But we see a glimpse of Swift in this documentary that is of a woman coming into her own, and I admire this woman. I think my doubt of her stems that she is from country music, and a lot of those folks seem to be conservative and anti-gay but here she shows herself to be not just a champion of equal right, but a fierce and loyal one. (“How can I go on stage and shout ‘Happy Pride Month’if I don’t take a stand) And when she sees the how horrible Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn is in her home state of Tennessee, she is implored to take a stand on her Instagram addressing her twelve million followers – against her management team, who tells her to not do it. You gotta give her props for that.
Still, you can tell she decides what she wants to share. Where is this ‘squad’ of friends that she reportedly has? And we really do not see this young man who she is supposedly in love with. To me, I am not heartbroken about not seeing those things but I bet her loyal fans are. But no mistake, this was an engrossing documentary that gave me a glimpse of a woman I can support, and you know what? It made me play and appreciate her new album, ‘Lover.’
I put Emi Takada’s ‘Why Did I Choose You’ on my Daily playlist a while back, and I have been meaning to write about her for a while now. For some reason, whenever a track from her album comes on, I always sit and pay attention. I like her a lot. She has a very expressive voice and there is such joy in her voice, so much so that even if the mood of what she is singing is melancholy, it never feels like a total downer. Something about that really appeals to me. Takada grew up in Japan but spent time both in Texas and New York. I think she is all Japanese, as far as jazz vocal sensibility. You can tell, just like a lot of Japanese people, how much she loves jazz and at the same time I feel that Asian sentimentality by the way she expresses lyrics in her love songs. You can sense that in the title track, and even in songs that are tangentially about live, like ‘It Might As Well Be Spring.’ And her jazz chops are there in Blue Skies, where duets with Marion Cowings, who taught her jazz. This album is a joy to listen to, and I don’t think I will be taking it off my playlist.
I will stand here and say I knew about Harry Connick Jr before everyone else id. I remember browsing through Tower Records and discovering his CD. yes, this is before he got mainstream attention via the soundtrack of ‘When harry met Sally.’ I was a michael Feinstein fan then, and remember thinking, based on Connick’s album cover, that their sound will be similar. But of course, in a way they are polar opposites, and I will not even start a debate on cabaret vs. jazz. I have been following him all these year, and have all his recordings. Of course, dozens of records later, Connick has come out with a Songbook album, this one exploring the work of Cole Porter.
I can’t think of a better pairing. I remember seeing Connick as a judge on American Idol on ‘Standards Week’ and watching him coach the young aspirants on how to sing songs from the Great American Songbook. ‘You have to feel the lyrics,’ he tries to explain to them over and over. Harry, just let them listen to this album, and I bet they will instantly understood how these songs are sung. This is a singer who means every lyric, every pause, and every nuance. Porter’s songs are the hardest to interpret – the lyrics are so witty, and you have to get and interpret every thought, every rhyme external and internal. It opens with ‘Anything Goes,’ and Connick interprets all the knows and winks in the lyrics – and some of the lesser heard verses of the song as well. And Connick’s arrangements are all stellar. Backed by a big band (and at times a full orchestra) these songs have never sounded more alive. Connick the arranger knows how to make these songs sound fresh. Talk about Harry styles.
If I have one complaint, it’s that he has chosen some of the most familiar songs in the Porter canon. But he included two rare ones, ‘Mind If I Make Love To You,’ and ‘You’re Sensational.’ I am just hoping those will be mined in Volume 2, which I am already asking for right now.
Jazz singing and theater vocals can sometimes be on opposite sides of the spectrum. But sometimes, they do merge together. Katie Britill can seemingly do both, and very well. She has a version of ‘Baby Dream Yuor Dream’ from Sweet Charity that made it to my “Ultimate Favorites” playlist and it was nice to see her release a new EP for the New Year. This new release is titled ‘Something’s Coming,’ and I am glad it has come. The one thing that first attracted me to the recording is the song selection – it’s very theater-centric! It starts with the title tune, and it has ‘I’ve Got The Sun In The Morning’ from Annie Get Your Gun. She does slightly swinging versions of both – you can sense her grasp of good rhythm. But, you can also tell that she has great flair for interpreting the lyrics. She brings her stage roots here, and you can tell she totally understands what she is singing about from a character’s point of view. I think this recording is so worth it even for just one track: her version of ‘No One is Alone’ from Into The Woods. I always pay attention when someone is singing Sondheim because they either give it justice or fudge it. She nails this song, essaying its meaning without diluting it. She would be a great Baker’ Wife. I think this particular track will be going on my Ultimate Favorite playlist. I read in her website that she performs in London – maybe one of these days I am able to see her live.
Gemma Sheery is originally from Australia and apparently started out singing dance tracks – she has a hit called ‘Work that’ However, I just listened to her new album called ‘Songs I Love,’ which is a collection of standards. Sherry has a tiny-ish voice, reminiscent of Blossom Dearie. It feels intimate and really pleasant sounding. And she has great taste in music, as this album is a collection of ‘Songs I Love.’ There’s ‘Spring Can Really hang You Up The Most’ to ‘Some Other Time,’ to ‘Lush Life,’ and she does that last track very well. She is backed by just a piano in these tracks, making the album perfect for late night listenings. There are times when she sings ‘under the note’ which make her sound a little bit pitchy – but she isn’t. You can tell the affection she feels for these songs.