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. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Marisha Wallace – Tomorrow / Shan Ako – Brave Heart / Soviet Zion”
A trio of festive album reviews with If The Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album, Leslie Odom Jr – The Christmas Album and Michael Ball & Alfie Boe – Together at Christmas
“Oh, my love, we live in troubled days”
No word of a lie, since starting to play Christmas music last week, I’ve listened to If The Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album everyday, it truly is that joyous. It’s a brilliant twist on the Christmas album that takes a slightly left-field approach to its festive track selection and then thoroughly imbues it all with the irrepressible spirit and way down musicality of Anaïs Mitchell’s soul-raising Hadestown. Led by the gorgeous voices of Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, Kay Trinidad and Jewelle Blackman, aka The Fates, and featuring the rest of the cast of the show’s Broadway production, the album features original songs from Mitchell, Gonzalez-Nacer and the show’s MD Liam Robinson alongside festive staples and some Marvin Gaye, Leonard Cohen and Sara Bareilles for good measure.
What really makes If The Fates Allow… sing is the way in which the sound of Hadestown is folded into the record – never mind the Ghost of Christmas Past, this collection is haunted by the spirits of Christmas Ancients. Musical motifs from the show shimmer beautifully in unexpected places and it is just spine-tinglingly effective; so too the iconic brass sounds that pepper ‘Thank God It’s Christmas’, an ingenious way of reinterpreting familiar songs through an inimitable musical identity. A cynic might demur at such an exercise in brand extension but they would just be wrong. Just listen to Patrick Page’s profundo on Cohen’s profound ‘Come Healing’ with its harmonious backing, or the ragtime-influenced take on ‘Sleigh Ride’, or the hushed splendour and lyrical incisiveness of Mitchell original ‘Song of the Magi’. Surely destined to become a perennial festive favourite whether you’re way down underground or livin’ it up on top. Continue reading “Christmas album reviews: If The Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album / Leslie Odom Jr – The Christmas Album / Michael Ball & Alfie Boe – Together at Christmas”
An album review of Joel Harper-Jackson’s So What Happens Now? and inspired by Marry Me A Little last night, I explore Makerman and Rob Houchen
“I don’t care if it hurts
I wanna have control”
Released just as the second lockdown kicked in, Joel Harper-Hackson’s debut album has ended up with a painfully apposite title – So What Happens Now?. I first spotted Harper-Jackson a few years as a standout in a middling new musical and have enjoyed following his career since then, not least in the Hope Mill’s gorgeous production of Little Women. Interestingly, this album largely eschews the world of musical theatre for the world of popular music, albeit reimagined through the wonderfully moody arrangements of Greg Morton.
Piano, guitar and cello thus come to the fore to underscore mournful takes on ‘Jolene’ and ‘The Man That Got Away’, the quavering vocal at the beginning of ‘Another Suitcade in Another Hall’ really refocuses the song’s emotion, and the shivering sparseness of ‘Wicked Game’ hits harder than usual, especially once the dramatic stakes are raised. Unexpectedly effective though is the duet on ‘Tragedy’ with Jodie Steele which utterly reinterprets the rueful acceptance of the song in a way which makes complete sense. ‘Creep’ with Lauren Byrne is pretty damn good too. If ever there was an album to cry-listen to whilst looking through a rainy November window and eating a packet of biscuits, this is that album and this is that moment. Highly recommended. Continue reading “Album Review: Joel Harper-Jackson – So What Happens Now? / Makerman – Grove Hill / Rob Houchen”
This set of album reviews covers Mazz Murray – Midnight Mazz – Here We Go Again, Mascherato the Musical (Original Studio Cast Recording) and Howard Goodall’s Songs from the Musicals Vol. 1
“You thrill me, you delight me
You please me, you excite me”
If anyone gets to follow Cher in making an album of ABBA songs, then it is probably the West End’s Donna Sheridan, Mazz Murray. Midnight Mazz – Here We Go Again sees her interpret 10 of Agnetha, Björn, Benny, and Anni-Frid’s best with an unexpectedness tenderness that you don’t necessarily always associate with the band. Handclaps guitar arpeggios adorn ‘Chiquitita’, a solo ‘My Love My Life’ feels packed with more yearning than ever, so too a delicately layered ‘I’ve Been Waiting For You’ which is making a late case to be one of my all-time favourite ABBA songs. A lovely way to revisit some of those oh-so-familiar songs. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Mazz Murray – Midnight Mazz – Here We Go Again / Mascherato the Musical / Howard Goodall’s Songs from the Musicals Vol. 1”
A canny choice of material means you’re as likely to find Selena Gomez as showtunes on Laura Benanti’s excellent debut studio album Laura Benanti
“I wish there was something I could do to make you smile again”
Tony Award-winner Laura Benanti has long been a performer I’ve loved, I’m always a sucker for such a legit soprano, so it was a bit of a surprise to clock that Laura Benanti is actually her debut studio album. Over the years she’s been a part of some top cast recordings and released a cracking live set, but with this release, she has created a marvellous album that feels equally at home in the cabaret club as it does reclining at home on your chaise longue with a Manhattan in hand.
It’s a varied selection of tracks to be sure, with musical references from Rufus Wainwright to Rosemary Clooney, Sondheim to Selena Gomez, Julie London to the Jonas Brothers. But remarkably, it all feels so beautifully, smoothly cohesive, a collection truly united by the interpretative skill of a genuinely engaged and engaging performer. Continue reading “Album Review: Laura Benanti – Laura Benanti”
Covid-19 may have cut her time in Waitress short but Lucie Jones Live at the Adelphi is a great reminder of the leading lady she is and will surely continue to be
“We’re after the same rainbow’s end”
Back in February, Lucie Jones took a break from performing in Waitress as the show’s composer Sara Bareilles took over the lead role of Jenna for a limited run. The musical had already set a closing date for the summer but who could have predicted that Jones, and co-star David Hunter, would never get to do the show again.
The only small benefit is that far from sitting on her laurels in the break, Jones made her solo West End concert debut by nipping back to the Adelphi on one of its nights off/ And that concert was recorded for posterity, now being released digitally on the usual platforms and physically here, where an exclusive bonus disc is available. Continue reading “Album Review: Lucie Jones Live at the Adelphi”
Reviews of a trio of excellent albums: Marie Oppert – Enchantée, Kim David Smith Live at Joe’s Pub and Siobhan Dillon – One Voice, all recommended
I do love me a soprano and discovering a new one feels like as good a way to spend lockdown as any. Marie Oppert is a French singer and actress whose debut, at age 17, came in a major concert version of a little-known show called Les Parapluies de Cherbourg… From those Michel Legrand-sanctioned days, she has established a notable career and now releases her first solo album Enchantée. Back by the luscious sound of the Orchestre National de Lille and conductor Nicholas Skilbeck, this collection sees Oppert explore a bilingual songbook that stretches from the boulevards of Paris to Broadway.
The result is something rather glorious. The sumptuous treatment of the likes of ‘The Light in the Piazza’ and ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ are near ecstatic, ‘Children Will Listen’ in French brings a new dynamism to a familiar piece, and characterful duets with Melissa Orrico and Natalie Dessay, whom she charmingly terms her “two Franco-American ‘fairy godmothers”, both impress. The irrepressible energy of 1938 track ‘Y’a d’la joie’ is an absolute standout and an interpretation of Billy Elliott’s ‘Electricity’ has no right to be as effective as it is here. Sod’s law though, Oppert is playing in London next month but bloody Covid restrictions means I can only go by buying a table for two. Continue reading “Album reviews: Marie Oppert – Enchantée / Kim David Smith Live at Joe’s Pub / Siobhan Dillon – One Voice”
Britain’s Got Talent judge Amanda Holden releases her debut album Songs From My Heart, full of musical theatre treats and Sheridan Smith
“You pulled me in and together we’re lost in a dream”
I’ve never actually seen an episode of Britain’s Got Talent so the rise of Amanda Holden to “undoubtedly one of Britain’s best loved entertainers” is one that has largely passed me by. That’s not to denigrate a career that has impressively straddled many media though and with the release of her debut album Songs From My Heart, it is clear that she hasn’t finished adding strings to her bow.
The album sees her delve mainly into the world of musical theatre (I did see her in Shrek the Musical back in 2011) and it is an endeavour in which she acquits herself well. Holden has a lovely clear voice but more impressively, an interpretative style that is blessedly free of unnecessary riffs and that pervasive need that many have to make the material ‘their own’. Continue reading “Album Review: Amanda Holden – Songs From My Heart”
Vocal group The Songsmiths’ Tenors of the West End offers up some fascinating harmonies on some classic pop tunes
“Everybody needs a little time away…from each other”
Simon Gordon, Benjamin Purkiss and Patrick Sullivan can boast 30 years experience in the West End and beyond and all spent some time in Obsidian as part of Bat Out Of Hell, so their teaming up together to form vocal group The Songsmiths makes sense. Their album Tenors of the West End, now available to download, draws on a wider range than Shaftesbury Avenue though – the mention of Chicago more likely to refer to soft-rock than Kander & Ebb.
This focus on pop-rock staples over musical theatre yields some fascinating results. There are no real surprises in terms of song choices but there’s no denying the exhilaration of hearing Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Go Your Own Way’ receive such a full-bodied treatment as this, so too with their meatier rendition of A-Ha’s classic ‘Take On Me’. The arrangement of ‘Hallelujah’ wisely keeps it out of mawkishness and some interesting harmonies emerge out of ‘Somebody To Love’. Continue reading “Album Review: The Songsmiths – Tenors of the West End”
One of the best Sondheim albums you could ever hope for, and not a sniff of musical theatre about it. Cyrille Aimée’s Move On: A Sondheim Adventure a work of musical genius.
“Anything you do
Let it come from you
Then it will be new”
I first came across the voice of Cyrille Aimée when reviewing the Encores cast recording for The New Yorkers, her rendition of Cole Porter’s ‘Love For Sale’ making hit the repeat button again and again, such is its gorgeous effortless musicality. So I quickly bookmarked her on Spotfy, knowing that when I had the chance, I would give her 2019 album Move On: A Sondheim Adventure a spin.
Along with co-arranger Assaf Gleizner, Aimée brings a wide range of musical influences to bear here, lifting Sondheim right out of the musical theatre and slap bang into the middle of somewhere exciting fresh and new. The piano trio of ‘Loving You’ brings a delicious, deceptive lightness to this tale of obsessive love, the gentle guitar thrumming through the string-laden ‘Marry Me A Little’ mirrors something of the uncertainty at the heart of the song, real instrumental drama explodes out of ‘Not While I’m Around’. Continue reading “Lockdown album review: Cyrille Aimée – Move On: A Sondheim Adventure”