Covid 19 has instilled some artistic inspiration from some artists, and I understand why – the whole pandemic instills emotion, and I imagine that could be a powerful way to express artistry. Melissa Errico has released a two song EP, titled ‘Two Spring Songs For Summer,’ and she picks two songs that give some meaning to the times we live in. First she sings Alec Wilder’s ‘Blackberry Winter’ and it speaks to how the pandemic has surpised us, halting our lives. On the second song, ‘You Must Believe In Spring,’ the Bergmans add additional lyrics to update for our times now, but the message of hope is still there, conveyed, that if we just believe, everything will be alright. Errico sings with tenderness and hope in both, and it soothes.
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.
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.
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.
Stephen Sondheim is known for his theater songs’ wit and intelligent internal rhymes but sometimes people forget that he writes some of the most tender and bittersweet melodies. Melissa Errico mostly focuses on those songs on her appropriately titled album ‘Sondheim Sublime.’ I have always had a fondness for Errico as a theater actress and singer, and I do think she has a very distinct voice – you hear her sing a note and you recognize is at hers immediately. She sings these songs with appropriate longing and needing and wanting that these songs deserve. Just look at the array of songs: ‘Not A Day Goes By,’ which is paired with ‘Marry Me A Little.’ And I have always had a fondness for ‘No More’ from Into the Woods, and she sings that perfectly here. I can’t think of any track here that isn’t well done, although I do have to admit that perhaps it is a little on the ‘too tender’ side if seen as a whole. But this is perfect for a playlist. This should blend well perfectly with my ‘theater covers’ one and randomly played will bring out golden moments.
There’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.
It’s Sutton’s World, we are just living in it. Sutton Foster is a different kind of triple threat – she is great in ‘Younger,’ and of course has won multiple Tonys, and now has released her new album, ‘Take Me To The World.’ And as I listen to her new album, I realize more and more, and it is very evident in this album that she falls more under ‘actress who sings.’ In each of these tracks, we get a glimpse of a character, and she tells the story of the songs via these characters. My favorite track is a slowed-down emotive ‘C’est Magnifique,’ which turns that song upside down. This isn’t a joyous can can interpretation of the song. Here’s what I get – we see a contemplative woman singing by Montmarte about love lost. It is quite dramatic, and never feels heavy handed. The rest of the songs have the same feel, with her medlettes (a fun ‘Everybody Says Don’t/’Say Yes’) and theatrified pop songs (Paul Simon’s’ Old Friends/Bookends’) She has great takes on showtunes old and new: a simmering ‘Stars And The Moon,’ and joyous ‘If I Were A Bell,’ and she does a great balance on classics old and new. This is a great album, one that grows more with each listen, and I hope to play it often.
Another Sinatra tribute, ho-hum. When I first played Laura Dickinson’s album ‘One For My Baby: To Frank Sinatra With Love,’ I thought to myself, this is more a theater voice. For anything Sinatra, my test-drive song for a singer is ‘All The Way,’ and when I heard her version, my first thought was there isn’t a lot of subtlety here (and that’s not an insult) She infused a lot of drama in her rendition, and with her soaring voice reminiscent of Linda Eder’s, I felt the song more of an aria. And that’s good. I can now calibrate how I am going to appreciate her music.
Looking at her bio, it looks like she is a Southern California native with theater credits, so everything makes sense – she has a sunnier disposition in dealing with the songs, and yes, there’s the drama. Listen to ‘One For My Baby’ and you feel like it’s a one-act drama. Her ‘Indian Summer’ full of down-on-my-knees pleading. Some of the arrangements kind of got on my nerves – trying too hard to be different – and I could see how I would tire of too much interpretation in some of her readings. But all in all, I like the album – it’s beautifully aced, and you can truly sense her love of the material (She grew up listening to his records) Her disc can easily be lost in the shuffle but if it stops, pay attention.
I am a big Megan Hilty fan. (I was always #TeamIvy when I was watching ‘Smash’) So of course I am first in line listening to her new album “Megan Hilty: Live At The Café Carlyle. I have been waiting for it, but they keep on moving the line (bah-dum-bum. I’ll be here the whole week!) Kidding aside, I wish I had seen her at The Carlyle, but I guess this disc is the next best thing. Hilty is in fine voice here, and it’s full of feeling, though seeing her live I’m sure adds more depth to her renditions. And the show gives insight to a lot of things Megan: we find out before she sings “Bye Bye Baby” that it was her audition song for Smash. Of course, she sings a lot of her Smash songs in here”…moving the line,” “Second Hand White Baby Grand,” and the duet of “That’s Life.” (Matt Cusson takes over Kat McPhee’s duties on that last one) The rest of the repertoire here are standards like ‘Someone To Watch Over Me,” ‘The Best Is Yet To Come,” and songs associated with her like ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.’ She does great service to these songs, but when I read reviews of her live show, I read she sang more interesting songs like ‘A Place Called Home,” and I had wished they included that here. She even does a (missing here) Rosemary Clooney Medley. I think her personality would shine in these numbers. But I am still thankful for what we get here, like a touching ‘Autumn Leaves/When October Goes’ medlette and torch numbers like ‘The Man That Got Away.’ We even get a wistful ‘Rainbow Connection’ at the end (which I think is a studio version) This is a great Megan Hilty souvenir, and I will keeping it close to my heart.