Niffer Clarke - Beyond the Ingenue (nifferclarke.com)
Clarke pays tribute to sopranos, primarily Julie Andrews and Barbara Cook, who have inspired her own singing career. It's a risky proposition -- after all these singers are legends in their own right, and yet it pays off: Clarke uses her clarion voice to make such well known songs as "In Buddy's Eyes" (from Follies) and "I Have Confidence" (from The Sound of Music) her own, never succumbing to the temptation to mimic her predecessors. Clarke has a slight temptation to over-emphasize comic lyrics, but it's never enough to detract from what is a lovely debut solo recording.
Eric Comstock, Randy Napoleon - Bitter / Sweet (Harbinger Records)
Comstock's delicate and heartfelt vocals and jazz guitarist Napoleon's equally moving accompaniment combine to create a stunningly simple and elegant disc. Some highlights include an edgily staccato interpretation of Rodgers and Hart's "This Can't Be Love," a subtly sunny take on "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams," a lushly understated interpretation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "I Have Dreamed," and an überly romantic "Two for the Road," which also features Comstock's frequent stage partner and real-life wife, Barbara Fasano.
Alfie Boe - Bring Him Home (Decca)
The British opera and stage star lavishes his powerful tenor voice on a host of classics -- "If I Loved You" from Carousel and "Some Enchanted Evening" from South Pacific -- to entrancing effect on his newest album. He also delivers the title track (from Les Miz) with tremendous and supremely moving care. The album also has a host of surprising selections ("Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and "Tell Me It's Not True" from Blood Brothers), which seem to be newly found gems thanks to the singer's stirring vocals.
Composer Gary Stockdale provides some remarkably tuneful and old-fashioned melodies for this musical about scabrous writer Charles Bukowski. Actually it's the dichotomy of toe-tapping tunes and Spencer Green and Stockdale's often filthy lyrics (appropriately so given the bio-musical's focus) that makes this disc so constantly intriguing and surprisingly enjoyable; for instance, "The Derelict Trail" is essentially a square dance tune filled with smutty language. The show will probably never go down as a "great" one, but this cast recording is a grand listen, and it should ensure the piece's future production by adventuresome companies.
Dare to Go Beyond (R.Evolución Latina)
This disc is not only a pretty fantastic Latin/pop recording, it's also raising money for a good cause: the nonprofit organization R. Evolucion Latina. Joshua Henry has written the empowering title track, which is performed in English as a choral number, featuring the likes of Corbin Bleu, Andrea Burns, and Doreen Montalvo; and as an acoustic number performed by the composer. Also heard on the disc are Josefina Scaglione, who lends her touchingly gossamer soprano to "Yo Puedo (I Can)" in a lush duet with Luis Salgado, and Geroge Akram who delivers a fiery Spanish-language interpretation of "Our Deepest Fear."
Lance Horne: First Things Last (Yellow Sound Label)
This disc brings together a variety of songwriter Horne's already expansive body of work. There are selections from four musicals as well as individual songs, and while not all are always successful (particularly when lyrics mix astuteness with cliche), it's a decidedly impressive listen. Among the most notable tunes are the hilarious "Haircut," which Ricki Lake delivers with panache; the bitingly satiric "American," which Alan Cumming mines for every bit of its explosive and sad anger; and "Strange Bird," a ballad that echoes songs by Elton John, sung with gentle, affecting earnestness by Cheyenne Jackson.
Million Dollar Quartet (Original Broadway Cast Recording) (MDQ Merchandising LLC)
Eddie Clendening, Lance Guest, Levi Kreis and Robert Britton Lyons' high-powered portrayals of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Parkins, respectively, are terrifically preserved on this album that is chock-a-block with some of the mid-1950s biggest hits. This new recording (as compared to the Chicago cast recording) not only features three songs introduced to the show on Broadway: "Fulsom County Blues," "I Walk the Line" and "Hound Dog," but also its terrific new cast member, Elizabeth Stanley, whose work is particularly vibrant with a sultry "Fever."
Eric Kunze - My Collection (wix.com)
Kunze's graceful tenor voice seems custom built for the big anthems of the British poperas, and a host of them are included on this disc that's a retrospective of his career, including a particularly satisfying "Gethsemane" from Jesus Christ Superstar and a terrifically considered "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" from Les Miz. There are a couple of nice surprises in the mix, too, such as Stephen Schwartz's haunting ballad "Fathers and Sons" from Working.
Natalie Weiss - EP (natalieweiss.net)
This seven-track recording beautifully showcases Weiss, as she takes on songs ranging from "Astonishing" (from Little Women), which has a gently insistent folk quality in Weiss' rendition, to Katy Perry's "Mannequin." There's one new tune on the album as well, Jason Robert Brown's highly charged "There With You," which features the songwriter on piano and which gives Weiss the opportunity to display the expansiveness of her always enjoyable vocals.
Originals - Musical Comedy 1909-1935 (Masterworks Broadway)
This compilation of historic recordings of early 20th century music theater performances enters the digital age with this downloadable and disc-on-demand reissue. There's been some superb remastering of tracks featuring the likes of Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor and Beatrice Lillie, which makes their delivery of some standards ("Second Hand Rose") and some delightful obscurities ("Hungry Women") sound particularly vibrant. The album is made even more invaluable with tracks featuring songwriters George M. Cohan, Cole Porter and the team of Nobel Sissel and Eubie Blake delivering their own work.
Our First Mistake (Sh-K Boom Records)
Brian Lowdermilk and Kait Kerrigan match their finely crafted melodies with lyrics that have a casual, almost conversational quality. The combination can sometimes jar the ear, but there are also times when it's truly arresting, particularly in "Run Away With Me," heard in two versions on the disc, including one from Michael Arden that's filled with pungent urgency; and in "Last Week's Alcohol," a song, delivered with finesse by Matt Doyle, which has a driving electronic beat and could have a future in dance clubs. An additional standout is the folk infused "My Heart Split," delivered with sweet innocence by Laura Osnes.
Jim Caruso - The Swing Set (Yellow Sound Label)
Anyone who's encountered Caruso during one of his Cast Party evenings at Birdland knows of his signature exuberance, and that quality -- along with his innate ability to find the heart of a song -- is captured on this disc of jazz-y standards, which have clever new arrangements by Aaron Weinstein. Caruso, as solo performer shines with Rodgers and Hart's "Manhattan" and Arlen and Harburg's "If I Only Had a Brain." In addition, Michael Feinstein, Hilary Kole and Stephanie J. Block join him for a trio of duets, which are, simply put, divine.
Thirteen Stories Down: Songs of Jonathan Reid Gealt (Sh-K Boom Records)
Songwriter Gealt demonstrates a true felicity for a variety of musical genres and a gift for shrewdly crafted lyrics on this remarkable compilation. It's little wonder that some of Broadway's best are on hand to deliver such songs as the exuberant pop-inspired "I Am Yours," featuring the soaring vocals of Caissie Levy; "My Best Friend," a tune with blue grass underpinnings delivered with ease by Tituss Burgess and Quentin Earl Darrington; and "Lessons Learned," a deeply felt ballad/anthem gracefully delivered by Will Chase and Kate Baldwin.
Weird Romance (Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording) (Masterworks Broadway)
This pair of short sci-fi tuners from Alan Menken and David Spencer boasts a host of appealing performances, particularly from Danny Burstein, Ellen Greene, and Jonathan Hadary. Some of the melodies prove to be rather striking after repeated listening and Spencer's lyrics do have their fair share of cunning turns, but rarely do the songs rival some of the composer's more famed works. It's ultimately a disc that belongs in collections simply to help contextualize and chart the arc of Menken's significant career.
The Zulu And The Zayda (Masterworks Broadway)
The infectious lilt of Yiddish klezmer music and tribal African rhythms blend to surprisingly pleasant and compelling effect in this musical, Harold Rome's final outing on Broadway. The 1965 show is chock-full of some wonderful gems, including the grand parable "Crocodile Wife" and the heartbreakingly gentle "River of Tears." This piece, originally billed as a play with music, but really a chamber musical, also features marvelously affecting performances from Menasha Skulnik, Louis Gossett, and Ossie Davis.