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).
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