Tony Bennett - Duets II (Columbia)
Bennett's unbeatable approach to the Great American Songbook is complemented in remarkable ways by a diverse array of other artists on his newest album. Lady Gaga certainly brings out the singer's playful side in the disc's swinging opening track, Rodgers and Hart's "The Lady is a Tramp." With Norah Jones, he transforms into a jazzy crooner offering up Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash's "Speak Low" (from One Touch of Venus), in an enticingly retro arrangement from Jorge Calandrelli. Other artists on the disc include Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli, and the late Amy Winehouse, who shares a particularly poignant "Body and Soul" with the singer.
Matt Zarley - Change Begins With Me (Zarleysongs)
Broadway vet Zarley channels his inner pop star to terrific effect on this solo album. It opens with the immediately infectious dance tune "WTF," which is also represented on the disc in a "clean" radio version and an electro remix from Wide Boys. Other tunes on the disc range from the uberly earnest boy band-like tune "Perfect," the appealing "Thank You for You," and the disc's title track, where Zarley's vocals prove to be particularly soulful.
Anastasia Barzee - The Dimming of the Day (Ghostlight Records)
Barzee, who's proven her versatility on Broadway in shows ranging from Henry IV to Urinetown, displays a chameleon-like quality on this debut CD. She impressively tackles such diverse selections as Kate Bush's "The Man With the Child in His Eyes," Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Nothing Like You've Ever Known" (from Song and Dance), a twangy blue grass rendition of Randy Newman's "Feels Like Home," and the disc's title track, a song from Richard Thompson that she movingly offers up with Brian D'Arcy James.
Divine Hair / Mass In F (Masterworks Broadway/ArkivMusic)
This recording of a service held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1971 to celebrate the third anniversary of Hair on Broadway deftly conveys the exuberance of the period and the show, underscoring the notions of love, peace, and tolerance so central to the musical. Familiar tunes like "Aquarius" and "Where Do I Go?" have both a rawness and richness that's not found in the many Hair cast recordings, and the Mass that accompanies them (also by the musical's composer Galt MacDermot) is a simultaneously funky and gorgeous piece of alt-liturgical music, particularly the languid, R&B-infused "Angus Dei."
Godspell: 40th Anniversary Celebration (Sony Masterworks)
Even as this popular show from Stephen Schwartz prepares for its return to Broadway, its 40th anniversary is being marked with the very welcome two-disc set that contains both the original cast and the original soundtrack recordings. It's the inclusion of this latter incarnation of the show -- long out of print -- that makes the release particularly notable. The movie stars Victor Garber, sounding particularly fresh-scrubbed and innocent, in the lead and featuring a fine ensemble, that includes estimable Lynne Thigpen (offering a robust "Bless the Lord), and Joanne Jonas (who sings a deliciously teasing "Turn Back, O Man").
Half-Past Wednesday (Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording) (Masterworks Broadway/ArkivMusic)
This obscure Off-Broadway tuner from 1962 revisits the fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin, and the ways in which a mysterious creature with green hair teaches a young woman to spin straw into gold. Robert Colby's music is certainly buoyant and is offered up with verve by a company that includes a young Dom DeLuise as the king who demands the maiden learn the impossible skill. But for contemporary listeners, the twee lyrics from Colby and Nita Jonas prove tiresome. There's one genuine exception: the syrupily goofy love-at-first waltz "You're the Sweet Beginning," which includes the slyly ironic "you're a fairy tale come true."
Lend Me a Tenor (Original London Cast Recording) (Warner Bros. UK)
Musical theater razzmatazz and operatic grandeur collide (appropriately) in this new musical version of Ken Ludwig's popular farce. Composer Brad Carroll's work, at its best, can bring to listeners' minds certain Gershwin shows that fuse operetta and jazz, and when it's offered up by Damian Humbley (playing the beleaguered assistant musical director who finds himself subbing for a great Italian tenor), the score and the show endears. Equally enjoyable is Joanna Riding, who brings fire to the role of the wronged wife of the tenor in her one big number "The Last Time," and Cassidy Janson's rendition of the show's title song brims with sunny charm.
A Little Princess (Ghostlight Records)
An A-list cast of performers brings Brian Crawley and Andrew Lippa's new musical splendidly to life on this studio recording. The show, which musically brings to mind Disney animated features at their finest, centers on a girl (Sierra Boggess in a simply incandescent performance) sent from her father in Africa to a boarding school in London. Other enjoyable performances include Julia Murney's turn as the school's somewhat venomous headmistress and Laura Benanti's sparkling work as this woman's sister. Will Chase's vocals are both warm and commanding as the girl's father, and Morgan James delights in her cameo as Queen Victoria.
London Road (Original London Cast Recording) (nationaltheatre.org.uk)
The story of a community rocked by the presence of a serial killer in their midst, and his ultimate discovery and trial, comes to life vividly in Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork's discomfiting musical, seen at the National Theatre earlier this year. The creators have used the unlikely subject to create a thoroughly original piece of theater, with oratorio, dialogue and traditional book song mixing in surprising and exciting ways. Of particular note is an amusing, yet nerve jangling, sequence in which two teen girls express their fears about the murders.
Dee Dee Bridgewater - Midnight Sun (Emarcy)
Eleven love songs prove to be a subtly seductive affair on this welcome new compilation disc featuring the Tony Award-winning singer. Bridgewater doesn't so much sing as purr the tunes, which range from the title track from Sammy Cahn, Sunny Burke and Lionel Hampton to Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin's "My Ship" (from The Lady in the Dark), which seems to simply drift lazily and cunningly in Cecil Bridgewater and Bernard Arcadio's arrangements. Other highlights include the Billie Holiday classic "Good Morning Heartache" and Bridgewater's quietly passionate take on Edith Piaf's signature "L'Hymne A L'Amour" (the album's one previously unreleased track).