Album Reviews: Marisha Wallace – Tomorrow / Shan Ako – Brave Heart / Soviet Zion

A trio of music reviews with Marisha Wallace’s album Tomorrow, Shan Ako’s EP Brave Heart and the original concept album of Soviet Zion

“I’m gonna shine out like a beacon in the night”

Watching some of the most recent musical theatre treats streaming over the last couple of weeks has proved a useful reminder of the need to catch up with the music that some of those performers have been releasing. Marisha Wallace dropped a Christmas EP a few years back but Tomorrow, released through Decca Records, marks her full debut album. Robbed of the chance to round out her run in the pandemic-curtailed Waitress last year, Wallace’s attention turned to curating and creating the inspirational focus for this collection.

The result is a nifty if eclectic blend of musical theatre and pop songs, with a few original tracks thrown in for good measure. And at its best, its soulful power is highly effective. A repurposed ‘Tomorrow’ from Annie, a delicate trip through Kacey Musgrave’s ‘Rainbow’ and the driving pop of ‘Before I Go’ form part of a powerful first half of the album. That level doesn’t quite maintain for me on a Side B that doesn’t demand relistening quite as much but those high spots make this a definite recommendation for your playlists.

She’d been making waves in the West End with a standout performance as Éponine in the most recent iterations of Les Mis but lockdown #1 also gave Shan Ako the opportunity to casually record a knockout EP. Brave Heart may only contain four tracks but makes a bold musical statement – a suite of warmly inspirational original songs showcase a richly characterful voice, one unafraid to recognise the strength in vulnerability (a lyrical theme powerfully expressed in the title track) and a musical talent to be reckoned with. 

Also avoiding the banana bread and sourdough wormholes, new musical Soviet Zion has opted to go for the concept album route in getting its music out into a locked-down world. Written by Giles Howe (book and music) with Roberto Trippini (book) and Katy Lipson (music), it covers a fascinating and underexplored area of history – the attempt to establish a Jewish homeland in Siberia. The release of the near-3 hour audio recording of the whole show is a challenging way to go, but by thoroughly immersing yourself in the world of the show, rewards can be found.

There’s an operatic scope not just to the score but to the storytelling too, as two different families of would-be pioneers come to terms with the sacrifices they must make in order to achieve their dreams of a socialist utopia, even as world war breaks out around them. Passages of full choral harmonising amp up the sense of drama and a clear sense of narrative intent drives many of the songs, performed well here by a committed company. 

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