Album Review: Audra McDonald – Happy Songs (2005)


“I double dare you to fall in love with me”

For her third album, and the first after the birth of her daughter, Audra McDonald’s third album saw her turn to Happy Songs. More specifically, it’s the music of the 1930s and 40s that is the focus of attention, Harold Arlen and Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin and the Gershwins, and McDonald proves herself the equal of the likes of Lena Horne and Judy Garland by taking on the standards they made famous and infusing them with a new lease of life. 

It’s a seductive mixture and one which once again works perfectly under McDonald’s stewardship. Even if the title might suggest light-heartedness, the song selection soon puts you right – tracks like ‘Ill Wind (You’re Blowing Me No Good)’ and ‘Supper Time’, an anti-lynching anthem, bring real gravitas to the album, alongside the more frivolous but no less seriously intended ‘I Wish I Were In Love Again’ and the rapid-fire corker that is ‘I Double Dare You’.

It’s this ability to imbue seemingly any material with her transcendent talent that makes Audra McDonald so unique. And she even manages to sneak in a couple of her beloved contemporary composers, in this case Michael John LaChiusa and Jay Leonhart, whose contributions, the jazzy ‘See What I Wanna See’ and ‘Beat My Dog’ respectively, fit in seamlessly. For me, it’s the wordless vocalese of ‘On A Turquoise Cloud’ that takes the honours but it’s another strong entry to her impressive discography.

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