Brian Stokes Mitchell - Simply Broadway (CDBaby) This Tony Award winner surveys about half a century of musical theater on this solo disc that makes for an often stirring recording, as his rich, mellifluous voice caresses well-known tunes by the likes of Lerner and Loewe, Rodgers and Hammerstein, George and Ira Gershwin, and Stephen Sondheim. And not only does Mitchell sound terrific, his interpretations are shrewd and insightful, and his work is deftly supported by pianist/arranger Tedd Firth's carefully considered work in songs like "Sorry Grateful" (from Company), which subtly emphasizes the song's melancholic bitterness, a rousing interpretation of "The Impossible Dream" (from Man of La Mancha), and a keenly funny rendering of "It Ain't Necessarily So" (from Porgy and Bess).
Jason Gould - Jason Gould (Backwards Dog) With this first EP compilation, Gould, who's made a mark for himself as an actor on the screen in Prince of Tides and on stage in The Twilight of the Golds in the West End, adds singer to his resume, offering up a quintet of tunes with gentle, heartfelt intensity. The recording includes standards such as Eden Ahbez's "Nature Boy," which has a hypnotic, dreamlike quality to it in Gould's interpretation, and Irving Berlin's "How Deep Is the Ocean," which Gould infuses with a palpable sense of longing and adoration, as well as one original number (the subdued ballad, "Morning Prayer").
Robert Cuccioli - The Look of Love (RobertCuccioli.com) Cuccioli channels the likes of singing legends like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett on this utterly beguiling disc that generously surveys the American Songbook over the course of an ample 22 tracks. As one would expect, Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, and the Gershwins are represented along with writers like Hank Williams ("Cold, Cold Heart") and teams such as Leo Robin and Russ Columbo ("Prisoners of Love"). Cuccioli's vocals have a debonair flair, that's moderated by a certain earthiness, which makes this album particularly seductive.
Alton Fitzgerald White - Disney My Way (AltonFitzgeraldWhite.com) A baker's dozen of tunes from classic Disney films get a soulful, R&B facelift on this new album. White, currently appearing on Broadway in The Lion King, has a rich baritone that's terrifically suited for the new arrangements for the songs that come from the likes of Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and even Newsies are represented), Phil Collins ("Strangers Like Me" form Tarzan), and the Sherman Brothers. Interestingly, it's the wholesale revisions to a couple of tunes from Mary Poppins that are the disc's standouts, particularly the singer's hauntingly delivered take on "Feed the Birds."
Tony Bennett - Viva Duets (Columbia Records) With his third "duets" album, Tony Bennett once again demonstrates that he might have found not only the fountain of youth for himself, but also the American Songbook, as he offers up classic tunes like "The Best Is Yet to Come" and "I Wanna Be Around" with some of the hottest names in Latin music today. In some instances, such "For Once in My Life," he and his singing partner, Broadway vet Marc Anthony, deliver the number in English, while elsewhere, such as a deliciously buoyant "Rags to Riches," the tune is performed by Bennett in English and Romeo Santos in Spanish. The arrangements are pretty old-school, but when Bennett and Christina Aguilera tear into a chestnut like "Steppin' Out With My Baby," the result is remarkably fresh.
Next page: February House, Andrea Marcovicci, Ken Greves and more...
February House (StorySound Records) Listening to this recording of Gabriel Kahane and Seth Bockley's musical glimpse into the world of a Brooklyn boarding house where the likes of W.H. Auden, Benjamin Britten and Carson McCullers all lived in the early 1940s can be, by turns, a fascinating and frustrating journey. There's little doubt that Kahane's intricate, intriguing melodies both evoke the period and emphasize the status of the characters as living outside the mainstream. At the same time, though, his uneven lyrics often undermine his musicianship. Nevertheless, the company – which includes Broadway vets like Kacie Sheik and A.J. Shively – delivers the often difficult material with stylish precision.
Celebrating the American Spirit (Dorian Sono Luminus) An intriguing portrait of America emerges on this disc that showcases the work of conductor Judith Clurman and her Essential Voices USA singing ensemble, as well as two star soloists: Kelli O'Hara and Ron Raines. At the album's center are 16 intriguing new pieces by the likes of Jason Robert Brown, Jake Heggie, and Andrew Lippa that provide brief snapshots of presidents from Washington to Obama. Both Raines and O'Hara are in fine form -- among their best work is his sparkling take on Irving Berlin's "It Gets Lonely at the White House" (from Mr. President), and her gossamer delivery of Leonard Bernstein's "Take Care of This House" (from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue).
Music & Lyrics By Charles Bloom: In Here (CharlesBloomMusic.com) There no doubt that Bloom's tunes – kind of a cross between Stephen Sondheim and Henry Mancini – are so unique that it's quite possible that if they were only played on a piano, they'd have the ability to make listeners sit up and take notice. But, when they're performed by such award-winning performers as Christine Ebersole, Gregory Jbara, Liz Larsen, and Howard McGillin -- all accompanied by 21-piece orchestra -- his work can be a bit breathtaking, evoking styles of the past and all the while sounding completely contemporary.
Andrea Marcovicci - Smile (Andreasong Recordings, Inc.) The strumming ukulele that sounds the first notes of this satisfying new disc from one of New York's queens of cabaret says it all: here's an ode to music primarily from the first portion of the last century. Marcovicci's at her most vocally graceful here, traversing well-known songs like "Ain't We Got Fun" and lesser-known ones like James Cavanaugh, Larry Stock and Vincent Rose's "Umbrella Man" with breezy aplomb. Other highlights include her tremulously bittersweet rendition of the Charlie Chaplin tune that gives the album its title and Carolyn Leigh and Elmer Bernstein's witty "Shakespeare Lied".
Ken Greves - Vintage and Rare: The Songs of Harold Arlen, Vol. 1 (KenGreves.com) Familiar tunes brush up against ones that listeners may never have heard on this disc centered on the works of composer Harold Arlen. Greves' stylings on Arlen's standards – such as "Ill Wind (You're Blowing Me No Good)" and "Legalize My Name" -- are both flavorsome and unique, but can't necessarily compete with more famous interpretations of the tunes. Where he gets to brightly shine is with the gems that he's dusting off, such as Arlen and Ralph Blaine's "I Love a New Yorker"and "Cocoanut Sweet" (from Arlen and E.Y. Harburg's Jamaica).
Next Page: Bremen, Kermit Lynch, The Lisps' Futurity and more...
Bremen (The PigPen Company) With this first full-length album, PigPen Theatre Co. demonstrates its talent for creating richly lyrical and tremendously atmospheric songs that glisten with both plaintive eeriness and deeply felt emotion. Each number on this 11-track recording serves as a kind of standalone fable told in a contemporary bluegrass vernacular, and among the most appealing selections are "Crow," which casts an ironic backward glance at the excesses of a hard-drinking night; "Just Like the Sea," a playful examination of a rocky romance; and the title track, which pays a fitting tribute to the storytelling tradition that's inspired the company's work.
Kermit Lynch - Donuts & Coffee (Mesa BlueMoon Recordings) Lynch, who may be equally well-known as both a pioneering wine importer and singer/songwriter, takes audiences down South with its array of bluesy covers and original tunes. He samples from the world of musical theater with Lerner and Loewe's "On the Street Where You Live" (from My Fair Lady), infusing the tune a lusty urgency, and the world of classic jazz with Duke Ellington's "In My Solitude," which he delivers with superlative sensuousness. Lynch's own songs hold their own alongside these numbers, as well as ones by Johnny Cash and Burt Bacharach. The result is one delectable disc.
Futurity (Extropian Records) The feel-good twang of bluegrass music blends with the almost Mensa-level erudition and just a bit of urban hipster edge in this new musical from The Lisps, It tells the story of a Union soldier in the Civil War, who attempts to solve all of America's problems by inventing a steam-powered brain. What's fascinating about the piece is that the 17 tracks also create an incredibly pungent statement about the U.S. today, such as "Blacklick Creek," which could serve as a modern-day anti-war anthem.
Halloween Hullabaloo (Wonderworks, Inc.) Composer-lyricist Jennifer Weingardner seems to want to have both the tricks and the treats with this new holiday-themed revue. On own hand, there's something sweetly corny about her tunes for the season of ghosts and ghouls. And, at the same time, the songs also have a wry ironic detachment. Although the songs demonstrate Weingardner's promise with both a melody and a cleverly unexpected rhyme, the disc makes for a slightly unsettling listening experience as one's never quite sure whether to laugh with or at the material.
Molly Wobbly's Tit Factory (SimG Records) Combine The Witches of Eastwick and Little Shop of Horror and lace them modern-day sex farce, and you'll have a basic idea of the plot behind this giddy new musical from composer/lyricist Paul Boyd. It's a bit of old-school musical comedy that's been laced with a contemporary musical sensibility, and the tunes are delivered with unabashed glee by an eight member ensemble. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of the album go to the Terrence Higgins Trust – a U.K. HIV and sexual health nonprofit.
Next page: Lionel Bart rarities, Seventeen, Valarie Pettiford and more...
The Genius of Lionel Bart (Sepia Records) Bart may be best known for writing the eternally popular Oliver!, but in his time, he was responsible for more than a few other hits. This grand three-disc set introduces today's listeners to the boundless pleasures of his work, culling together tunes from his biggest hit as well as his other shows (including the rollicking cockney tuner Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be) and some of his standalone tunes. Perhaps most impressive in the set's curatorial expertise is the inclusion of demos performed by Bart himself, and some swell covers of his most famous songs.
Seventeen (Masterworks Broadway/ArkivMusic) This 1951 show based on a coming-of-age tale from Booth Tarkington was sepia-toned even when it debuted, which may make its quaint, homespun charms feel even more old-fashioned for listeners today. Certain songs certainly do sound hokey ("Summertime Is Summertime"), but there's little denying the gentle charm and fine craftsmanship of the score from composer Walter Kent and lyricist Kim Gannon. And when the writers turn up the double-entendre heat in numbers like "Reciprocity" (delivered with teasing spunk by Ann Crowley), the score is an utter joy.
Victor Herbert: Eileen (New World Records) A thorough job of detective work has resulted in this impressive first full-scale recording of Victor Herbert's 1916 operetta, set against the backdrop of Irish rebellions at the end of the eighteenth century. Herbert's felicity for lush melodies is in boundless evidence here. But what might be most extraordinary about his work is how it not only presupposes work by Jerome Kern and George Gershwin, but also draws on Irish airs and even John Philip Sousa. Backed by the Orchestra of Ireland, the principals all deliver robust performances, particularly tenor Eamonn Mulhall as the show's hero.
Up in Central Park (Sepia Records) Dorothy Fields' lyrics, delicately filled with witty bite, are probably the main reasons that two songs from this show, originally seen on Broadway in 1945, continue to be popular today, "It Doesn't Cost You Anything to Dream" and "Close as Pages in Book." Not surprisingly, Deanna Durbin's delivery of these Sigmund Romberg tunes prove to be sublime highpoints of this new release of the film's soundtrack. The disc carries ample bonus material, including one number that didn't make it into the film, "Currier and Ives," which displays Fields at her zestiest.
Valarie Pettiford - Velvet Sky (OfficialValeriePettiford.com) Listeners of all ages will find themselves snuggling into this supremely comforting album of original lullabys from Pettiford (a Tony nominee for Fosse). Not only do her vocals carry a warm plushness that can be as inviting as a well-worn blankie, her melodies are a deft combination of fanciful lilts and soothing tones. You can't really go wrong with any of the 13 songs, but particular highlights are the calypso-infused "Mama Say, Baby Do" and the blithely whimsical "A Choo-Choo-Choo Train."