The beloved Tony Award winner's adaptability knows no bounds as demonstrated by this must-have disc, a studio adaptation of her cabaret show in which she offers up a host of tunes normally associated with men. Her perfectly phrased and emotionally deep interpretations of songs like "Maria" (from West Side Story) and "More I Cannot Wish You" (from Guys and Dolls) just can't be beat. And her skill with comedy, particularly in Eric Kornfeld and Eric Stern's adaptation of Lerner and Lowe's "Hymn to Him," proves equally deft.
George Dvorsky - All Through the Night (JAY Records)
Stupendously backed by the National Symphony Orchestra, Dvorsky (currently on stage in the York Theatre's Closer Than Ever brings an unalloyed sunniness to 16 musical theater classics on this consistently satisfying album. In some instances, the singer's approach seems natural as with "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" (from Oklahoma!). Elsewhere though, his delicately upbeat delivery brings new shadings to heavier songs, like "The Impossible Dream" (from Man of La Mancha) and "I Wish I Could Forget You" (from Passion). Moreover, Dvorsky's clarion vocals are perfectly matched by Rebecca Luker and Janis Kelly, for Cole Porter's "All Through the Night" and "Almost Like Being in Love" (from Brigadoon).
Raissa Katona Bennett - Another Kind of Light (LML Music)
Bennett brings a shimmering effervescence to this consistently engaging album, which features a deliciously varied line-up of songs from several talented songsmiths. Among the disc's highlights are an exotically percussive interpretation of Cole Porter's "I Concentrate on You," a tenderly moving rendition of Paul McCartney and John Lennon's "I Will," and "Torch Song for Raissa," a wonderfully vampy tune from Michael John LaChiusa written (with tongue firmly in cheek) especially for this versatile singer.
John Lloyd Young - My Turn... (Under the Skyway Productions)
The actor, currently back on Broadway in his Tony Award-winning role of Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, surveys a septet of classic rock tunes to make his debut solo CD a retro pleasure. His expressive falsetto is in excellent shape and perfectly suited for songs like "In the Still of the Night" and "Hey There, Lonely Girl." In other instances, Young proves to be more of a traditional crooner, particularly with his heartfelt rendition of the bluesy "Since I Fell For You."
Jessica Molaskey/Dave Frishberg - At the Algonquin (Arbors Records)
Listeners will find themselves enchanted by Molaskey and Frishberg's palpable chemistry during the entirety of this 16-track disc that preserves a show they once offered at New York's famed -- and now shuttered -- Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel. Her airy vocals are the perfect complement to both his bluesy tunes and earthy vocals. The disc contains not just such sublime tunes as "Can't Take You Nowhere" and "My Attorney Bernie," but some songs that Frishberg once penned for a show about the venue and its famed denizens, including the wittily ironic "Will You Die?"
Call Me Madam (The Original Show Album) (Masterworks Broadway/ArkivMusic)
Contractually, Ethel Merman could not appear on the original cast album of this Irving Berlin classic for RCA, so the label got the poised and assured Dinah Shore to step into the role of Sally Adams, American ambassador to the Grand Duchy of Lichtenberg. As we can now all hear for the first time, Shore's genteel sassiness is the perfect balance for original cast member Paul Lukas' suavely continental work as the country's foreign minister (and also the album's narrator). Also on hand are Broadway company members Russell Nype and Galina Talva, who simply exude sweetness with "It's a Lovely Day Today."
Chip Deffaa's The Seven Little Foys (Original Cast Records)
Deffaa has curated an exceptional array of tunes from the early 20th century as he imagines the late, great Eddie Foy's family in both the comfort of their home, enjoying a casual singalong, and in a public performance as a singing troupe. There are lots of familiar tunes here ("Shine On, Harvest Moon," "The Yankee Doodle Boy") some others that have long lapsed into obscurity ("Chinatown, My Chinatown"), and many period-sounding originals by Deffaa himself. And while there are moments between tunes that can be a little too precious, there is no denying the album has the overall ability to charm.
Cheryl Bentyne - Let's Misbehave: Cole Porter Songbook (Summit Records)
A longtime member of the award-winning Manhattan Transfer, Bentyne brings her distinct style to 14 Porter classics on this superlative solo disc. Whether she's tumbling through a "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" with marvelous Latin flair or seductively crooning "It Was Just One of Those Things," the disc sizzles. Special note should be given to the musicians who shine in their own solos, particularly saxophonist Doug Webb (who lends grit to "I Love Paris"), guitarist Larry Koonse (who provides the acoustic start to a luxurious "I Concentrate on You"), and trumpeter Chris Tedesco (who adds decided pizzazz to "It's Alright With Me").
This limited edition re-release of the show's original Broadway recording -- having been re-mixed from the original session masters -- sounds gloriously pristine. The performances from principals Dorothy Collins, John McMartin, Gene Nelson and Alexis Smith, as well as luminaries Yvonne De Carlo, Mary McCarthy and Ethel Shutta, all have a heretofore unheard vibrancy that's in perfect balance with the orchestra (playing Jonathan Tunick's robust orchestrations).
Steve Doyle - Home to You (SteveDoyle.com)
With this lush 10-track disc, singer/pianist Doyle seems to turn the clock back 50 years or so to an era of swinging jazz when cigarette smoke swirled through basement clubs around Manhattan. His expressive vocals on such standards "Secret Love," "Dancing in the Dark," and "Ain't She Sweet," are ably matched by some notable solos from his musicians, particularly saxophonist Quinsin Nachoff and bassist Chris Higgins. Perhaps most surprising, however, is how Doyle returns "Tainted Love," perhaps best known from the early 1980s Soft Cell recording, to its early 1960s roots.
Johnny Mercer Sings Just for Fun (Sepia Records)
This terrific compilation disc brings together a delightful set of songs that Mercer recorded with the Paul Smith Trio in 1957, including Frank Loesser's "The New Ashmolean" (from Where's Charley?), and a baker's dozen of demo recordings featuring Mercer with collaborators Hoagy Carmichael (for an aborted bio-film about Mack Sennett and Mabel Norman) and André Previn (for their West End musical The Good Companions). It's these latter tracks that make this album a real gem, especially the comic "Queenie, The Quick-Change Artist" and the gently rueful "The Pleasure of Your Company."
Winston Gieseke - On the Edge (LML Music)
Gieske's ability to navigate comic material shines brightly on this album, recorded live during a performance he gave at M Bar in Hollywood in 2011. Particularly funny highlights are "Happily Ever After," a giddily off-color look at fairy tale romances, a sardonically sincere rendering of "Shanghai Surprise," and a rendition of Cole Porter's "Always True to You in My Fashion" that's tinged with Madonna's "Material Girl." Gieske's patter between numbers proves equally amusing.
Selections from Sympathy Jones (the New Secret Agent Musical) (SympathyJones.com)
For this show about a woman working to realize her dream about becoming an agent, songwriter Masi Asare ably blends 1960s pop sensibilities with traditional musical theater sounds. Amusingly, she also echoes the now iconic theme songs for the James Bond flicks with the disc's opener, "Time Will Tell," delivered by Jen Percival, channeling her inner Shirley Bassey. At the album's center is Broadway star Kate Shindle, who imbues the titular character with sauciness and an appropriately mercurial flair. Also notable are Sue Mathys and Jim Bray as Kitty Hawk and Tick Tock, who make two melodramatically funny villains.
Tommy Cecil/Bill Mays - Side By Side - Sondheim Duos (CDBaby)
Bassist Cecil and pianist Mays take listeners on a fascinating journey through some of Sondheim's most famous tunes on this elegant jazz disc. They put an almost dreamy, yet nevertheless somewhat dark, spin on "Not While I'm Around," while sparkling syncopation and clever harmonic riffs make "Comedy Tonight" a bouncy delight. And when they turn to the Leonard Bernstein melody for "Something's Coming," there's an undeniable -- and ever-so-apt -- antsyness to their playing.
Singin' in the Rain (2012 London Cast) (First Night Records)
This beguiling disc, a recording of the West End transfer of the Chichester Festival production, brims with familiar tunes from the classic MGM film, including "Make 'Em Laugh," "Good Morning," and, of course, the title number. What listeners will also happily find here are orchestrations from Larry Wilcox and Larry Blank that are brassy, buoyant joys, and utterly charming performances from Scarlett Strallen (in the Debbie Reynolds role) and Adam Cooper (filling Gene Kelly's formidable shoes).
Top Hat (2012 London Cast Recording) (First Night Records)
This West End musical (currently at the Aldwych Theatre) boasts a grand amalgam of Irving Berlin songs, including hits from the RKO movie on which the show is based (like "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" and "Cheek to Cheek"), which are augmented by other well-known tunes ("Puttin' on the Ritz" and "Let's Face the Music and Dance") as well as less familiar titles ("Latins Know How" from Louisiana Purchase). And, thanks to Jerry Travers' Rudy Vallee-esque vocals and Christopher Walker's smartly conceived orchestrations and arrangements, this thoroughly enjoyable disc sounds both period-perfect and remarkably of our time.