Beauty Is Beauty (Music Thoughts: Beauty And The Beast Original Motion Picture Soundtrack 2017)

XVCOMBO18Whenever someone asks me what my favorite Disney cartoon is, I always say ‘Beauty And The Beast,’ and when asked why, I always say that it is because I think it is the most romantic of all the titles. So of course I have been interested in the ‘live action’ version of it that’s coming up, although really, there’s a part of me that thinks the original must be preserved (and I am not even the biggest animated film fan)  But Disney will always be the money hungry Disney, so recycle recycle, recycle!

But, for me anyway, the score is the real star of the film. Alan Menken’s music and Howard Ashman’s words are perfect together, and whenever I hear the title track, I am reminded of the rumour that Ashman wrote that as an AIDS allegory (they say the same thing about ‘Part Of Your World’ from ‘The Little Mermaid’) That core is in perfect hands based on the soundtrack – all the principals sing the songs well, and give textured aural performances. Emma Watson is great as Belle, in ‘Something There,’ and ‘Belle,’ and Emma Thompson gives a wise reading of Mrs. Pott’s version of the title track. Based on this recording, the movie is perfectly cast. The additional songs here, written by Menken with Tim Rice, are fine, although I suspect they will fare better after seeing the movie, which i am, now more than ever, desiring to see.

Just Joshing (Music Thoughts: Stages, Josh Groban)

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We all know Josh Groban can sing. But has he really released a good album? Individually, there are tracks that are great but in “Stages” he has finally released an album that is cohesive and well-thought out. And the repertoire, though safe and calculated, does showcase a lot of the finest musical theater songs in recent history, though I would have wanted less name-brand songs and less obscurities. But Mr. Groban et al are trying to sell an album and this is what sells. And Groban sings all of these songs well – with soaring heights and every available string is employed in the arrangements, no stone unturned in making them all sound lush.  So why then do they sound so hollow? Perhaps to me all the details are so fine-tuned with no spontaneity, and no soul. Well, except for one track: “If I Loved You,” which is a duet with the great Audra McDonald.  Listen to her first note and you can sense the understanding of the material there. I am not kidding when I say that I wept when I first heard the track. The much-lauded duet with Kelly Clarkson in “All I Ask Of You,” is nice, sure, but to my ears sounds derivative of every other cover out there. And I am also particularly glad for “Finishing The Hat,” and there you can see how Groban does when he tries to go deep in the material – or maybe because the material is challenging that he had no choice but to understand it. The rest, they’re fine, but probably better suited as muzak at Border’s, if they still existed.