Album Review: John Barr – In Whatever Time We Have

“Even clowns need their time to cry”

There have been a few CD reviews posted on here over the last few months but they have all been of albums that I have bought myself and loved, thus inevitably not necessarily the most balanced of views across the spectrum of what’s out there. So friends and colleagues have been lending me the musical theatre CDs that they listen to and I’ll be trying to keep up to reviewing at least one per week and we will see how it goes. If you click on the tag ‘music’ at the bottom of the post, that should bring up all the CD reviews until I work out a different way of presenting them on here.

First up is John Barr’s 1998 album In Whatever Time We Have. Barr has become quite an established cabaret singer now as well as stints performing in several of the big long-runners in the West End, though I saw him most recently in Sondheim’s Assassins at the Union (not counting his performance at the Scrapbook Live concert). This is a mostly ballad-heavy album, with some attempts at variety which don’t always come off but this is also something which cuts both ways. His singing style here is so smooth at times that one misses a little of the variety that could be explored here even within the ballads: in particular the lovely ‘Does the Moment Ever Come?’ from Stiles & Drewe’s Just So has much of its searching questioning tone ironed out which robs it of much of the emotional heft of the song. But hearing songs sung out of the context of the shows from which they’re taken, especially when they are much loved by yourself, means it is difficult to put the versions you know and love out of your mind.

And generally speaking, the album doesn’t get off to the strongest of starts. South Pacific’s ‘Cockeyed Optimist’ receives a baffling arrangement which does it no real favours nor did I really like ‘Johnny One Note’. A medley of West Side Story’s ‘One Hand, One Heart’ and ‘Not While I’m Around’ from Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd is nice, with both songs sung well, but I’m not sure I saw any benefit in running them together and as is so often the case with these things, I would rather have heard full versions of both.

Barr is at his best when demonstrating the gorgeous subtleties in his voice and this really comes into its own towards the end of the CD: ‘A Quiet Thing’ from Kander & Ebb’s Flora, The Red Menace, the touching sentiment of John Bucchino’s ‘Grateful’ and the utterly beautiful ‘When I See You’ from the show Showstopper which is a close second for my favourite song on here. And picking slightly more obscure Sondheim numbers also benefits him, ‘Multitudes of Amys’, a song cut from Company even though it was the original finale, and a melancholic trip through Anyone Can Whistle’s ‘There Won’t Be Trumpets’ also both impress/

My favourite song on first listen, and still now, the title song ‘In Whatever Time We Have’ from the Stephen Schwartz show Children of Eden, an elegant duet with Jenna Russell similar to Wicked’s ‘As Long As You’re Mine’ in almost every aspect but sweeter in its outlook. It surprises me that I hadn’t heard it before at various cabaret shows, though I suppose not everyone has the same affinity for Schwartz’s material as I, but it does feel like the ideal song to fill the Delfont Room with a lovely warmth on a Sunday evening. Barr revels in his love of Schwartz’s songs though and two others are featured here, the sweeping ‘Corner of the Sky’ from the show Pippin and the chirpy ‘Marking Time’ which was cut from that show before opening.

So a slightly rocky start to be sure but soon turning into something quite special with its (mostly) simple orchestrations that breathe new life into even the older songs here. Thus this is a CD that I’d happily recommend for fans of powerful balladry, sung with warmth, feeling and a strength that does not need to rely on any oversinging or vocal trickery.

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