Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Holiday CD Round-Up by Seth Bisen-Hersh

The nytheatre i happily presents this holiday feature, a look at some recent theatre-related CD releases, written by our CD columnist, Seth Bisen-Hersh:

*****

2009 CD Reviews
by Seth Bisen-Hersh


I admit it: I have been procrastinating writing CD reviews for a while now. The amount of Broadway performers making solo CDs in the last year alone has created quite a backlog. In fact, there are even CDs from 2008 and, dare I admit, 2007 that I failed to cover, and it hardly seems fair to suddenly become a good Samaritan but only cover ones I missed in 2009. Thus, I have decided to review all of the solo (and 1 duet) CDs I have received but not reviewed from 2007 to the present en masse; I hereby present to you 15 concise reviews just in time for holiday shopping.

First, I will say I would highly recommend all of these CDs. They are all pristinely recorded. If you are a fan of the performer, I promise you, you will not be disappointed. Here are the highlights, most recently released recordings first:

Marcy & Zina: The Album: Marcy & Zina’s songs are staples of the cabaret scene. This marks the first time a lot of their classic songs have been professionally recorded, and it’s about time! The songs range from the hilarious--“Fifteen Pounds” and “The Last Song”--to the emotional--“Oh, How I Loved You” and “Welcome to Rain”--but always they exhibit the exquisite song-writing craft you expect from this wonderful writing team.

Chita Rivera: And Now I Swing: Words cannot express how iconic Chita Rivera is. She is without a doubt a Broadway legend and has finally come out with a solo recording, which certainly swings, as the title promises. The highlights are many and include a wonderful new Kander and Ebb song from The Visit--“Love and Love Alone”--a heart-wrenching “Where Am I Going” from Sweet Charity, and a frenzied “Carousel” from Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.

Liz Callaway: Passage of Time: Liz Callaway’s voice is angelic. This recording is replete with highlights--in fact just about every track is a highlight. Simply put, if you are a fan of Callaway, you should have this CD. Here are a few of the reasons:– a new song by Flaherty and Ahrens (“Nothing to Lose”), two Sondheim songs (“Being Alive” and “Children Will Listen”), a rendition of a song from Baby she didn’t get to perform in the show (“Patterns”), and a new duet with her sister, Ann Hampton Callaway (“That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be”). Plus there are four great medleys.

Rebecca Luker: Greenwich Time: Rebecca Luker expresses so much emotion with just the subtlest change in her vocal tone. Her soprano melts over the listener’s ear, as soothing as a mother’s caress. Her recording contains mostly world premiere songs by new composers, but has a few obscure treasures from older ones, as well. The highlights are an esoteric Jule Styne/ Carolyn Leigh tune, “Killing Time,” a chilling rendition of the Goldrich/Heisler ballad, “Out of Love,” and a gentle “Summer with You,” a world premiere John Kander song, which shows a musical side of him never before exhibited.

Kate Baldwin: Let’s See What Happens: Kate Baldwin's debut recording is charming. Baldwin sings fifteen classics either with lyrics by E. Y. Harburg or music by Burton Lane. Harburg’s clever lyrics are almost unparalleled, and Lane’s music is vivacious. The highlights are a jazzy rendition of “How are Things in Glocca Morra?” a tune Baldwin sings 8 times a week on Broadway in Finian's Rainbow, a passionate “He Wasn’t You,” and the upbeat “I Don’t Think I’ll End It All Today,” which incidentally was pleasantly orchestrated by Tony winner Jason Robert Brown.

Alan Cumming: I Bought a Blue Car Today: That Cumming is not exactly a singer does not deter from the charm of this solo debut. The heavily accented Scotsmen neither croons nor belts through his covers of artists as varied as Sinatra and Cindy Lauper, but fans will not be disappointed. Cumming pulls out his characteristic duality of naughtiness and innocence in each selection. Highlights include the Hedwig and the Angry Inch covers “Wig in a Box”/"Wicked Little Town,” where he is truly in his element, the raunchy “Beautiful,” and the Cabaret tribute “Mein Herr.” Overall, an enjoyable listen.

Malcolm Gets: The Journey Home: Malcolm Gets’s first solo recording is simply charming. His soft, sweet interpretations create a serene ambiance. Highlights include a seductive, cross-gendered rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s “Wait,” a sentimental version of Maury Yeston’s ballad “Getting Tall,” and an earnest “Truly Scumptious” from the children’s movie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

Stephanie J. Block: This Place I Know: The coolest thing about Stephanie J. Block’s solo CD is that she asked all the composers to accompany her songs. The next coolest thing is that Block’s flawless, seamless belt is on audible display throughout the recording. She belts higher than anyone should be able to without the slightest bit of effort. The highlights include dueting with 9 to 5 composer Dolly Parton on her standard “I Will Always Love You,” hearing the original “I Want” song from Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked, “Making Good,” and an esoteric gem by Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia called “Smart Woman.”

Kerry Butler: faith, trust & pixie dust: Kerry Butler’s recording of Disney songs is magical. Butler sweetly transports the listener to the Magic Kingdom, providing a window into childhood. Her family-friendly recording presents calming renditions of mostly animated classics. The highlights include a hopeful “When You Wish Upon a Star,” an imploring medley of “It’s a Small World” and “God Help the Outcasts,” and a melancholy “When She Loved Me.”

Karen Mason: Right Here/Right Now: Karen Mason is a magnificent musical talent. Being extremely versatile, Mason finds the nuance in both comedy and dramatic songs. The highlights of her new CD include the funny “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” and “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here,” an intense, incredible medley of the Beatles song “Help” with the Sondheim masterpiece “Being Alive,” and a touching rendition of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from Sunset Boulevard (Mason covered the role of Norma Desmond on Broadway).

John Pizzarelli: With a Song in my Heart: The intricate jazz stylings of John Pizzarelli are on clear display on his new album. 7 of 12 tracks feature Pizzarelli’s group, the wonderful Swing Seven (with incredible arrangements by Don Sebesky), and two of the others feature great guest instrumentalists. The selections are all songs written by the legendary Richard Rodgers--some are well-known, while others are fairly obscure. The recording is uniformly grand with each track providing eclectic and unexpected twists. If you are into jazz and enjoy the music of Rodgers, this CD is for you!

Sutton Foster: Wish: Sutton Foster is a like a breath of fresh air. Her first solo CD is whimsically joyous and showcases her dynamic range from sweet to brassy, from funny to poignant and from introverted to extroverted. The highlights of the CD include the folky rendition of Christine Lavin’s “Air Conditioner,” a thrilling duet with Little Women co-star Megan McGinnis: Craig Carnelia’s “Flight,” an emotional “Once Upon a Time” from Charles Strouse and Lee Adams’s All American and a belty rendition of the anthem “On My Way” from Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley’s Violet.

Lauren Kennedy: here and now: Lauren Kennedy continues to be a stunning voice for new composers with her second solo CD. When she belts, it’s a seamless, shimmering sound. The highlights of the CD include a new upbeat song by Andrew Lippa, “Spread a Little Joy,” a fantastic jazzy song by The Wedding Singer team, Matthew Sklar & Chad Beguelin, “Pretending that I’m Somebody Else,” and Marcy Heisler & Zina Goldrich’s hilarious, honest cabaret song, “Apathetic Man.”

Kelli O’Hara: Wonder in the World: Kelli O’Hara has a seductive soprano. Her jazzy debut recording features new arrangements of some standards plus three original songs by Harry Connick, Jr, O’Hara’s Pajama Game co-star, who also duets on the title song. The highlights are the aforementioned title duet, the soft arrangement of Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes,” an emotional, mature “Fable” from Adam Guettel’s The Light in the Piazza, which O’Hara co-starred in playing the younger role, and a delicious “I Have Dreamed” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s classic, The King and I.

Judy Kuhn: Serious Playground: The Songs of Laura Nyro: It could be said that one of the greater tragedies in Nyro's career was that her music was so heavily covered that no one outside of the music industry revered her songwriting with the same esteem as peers such as Joni Mitchell. However, here her catalog is treated with the appropriate amount of respect that perhaps only a Broadway Baby could dish out. Other singers might be weary of tackling these highly complex pop songs, so treasured by Nyro fans, and so varied in their keys and melodies. So intricate is the songwriting that Nyro can flawlessly swing from a variety of melodies, pitches, keys, time changes etc.--all in the same song! And Kuhn dutifully follows along, her love for the music clearly evident. It would be impossible to choose a highlight from an album that encompasses so much light and so much darkness.

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