“I could offer you a warm embrace”
Currently on maternity leave from Beautiful – The Carole King Story for which she was nominated for a Tony, Anika Larsen’s debut CD is a lovely thing indeed. Described as a collection of “lullabies and other songs I loved singing to the children I cared for”, it’s an album designed to be listened to from start to finish (switch off that shuffle!) as the mood softens and the tempo slows – a nifty tip from a seasoned babysitter which is “better than Benadryl”.
On Broadway, Larsen’s credits have included Rent, Avenue Q and both Xanadu and Zanna Don’t but this is no lazy retread of musical theatre standards. Instead, a diverse collection of pop and easy listening is transformed into something special in MD David Cook’s thoughtful arrangements. It means Sing You To Sleep a more musically intelligent collection than you might initially think and sometimes challenging – ‘Somewhere Out There’, a tribute to lyricist Cynthia Weil who Larsen plays in Beautiful, becomes a noodling free jazz-fest which never quite settles.
Elsewhere, Bruno Mars’ ‘Count On Me’ is infused with a sweet optimism, ‘Sleepy Man’ from musical The Robber Bridegroom swings with a beguiling rhythm and duetting with co-star Jessie Mueller, ‘You Can Close Your Eyes’ is a model of perfect harmonising and vocal restraint. Larsen’s delivery throughout is impressively consistent and free from the riffs and embellishments that mars so much contemporary singing in the name of ‘making a song your own’. Here, Larsen and her band always trust that the music is strong enough and that heartfelt simplicity wins every time.
The final third of the album is just extraordinary though. Sting’s ‘Fields of Gold’ has never sounded better, Freddie Maxwell’s (her partner) horn dappling a gorgeously clear vocal like moonlight on a still lake; Dumbo’s ‘Baby Mine’ stripped off any syrupy sentimentality and sung with bright-eyed ease; and in closing, John Denver’s ‘Annie’s Song’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘To Make You Feel My Love’ effortlessly flow from singer and musicians alike as if being improvised on the spot – the musicianship here is just superb. If this is the music that Larsen will be singing her newborn to sleep with, that’s one lucky kid indeed.