10 Tuneful CDs
Reviews of discs from Kate Baldwin, Ann Hampton and Liz Callaway, Tim Robbins and more.
Take a trip (pun fully intended) back to the music of the late 1960s with this joyous recording of a concert that the Callaway sisters gave at Birdland earlier this year. The album showcases not only the tunes of the era, from bubblegum pop to rock to protest songs, but also the singers' prodigious talents and remarkable chemistry as performers. Some particular highlights include Ann's soulful rendition of Bob Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind" and Liz's sensitive take on a medley of Jimmy Webb's "Didn't We" and "MacArthur Park."
Baby Jane Dexter -- In the Real World (www.babyjanedexter.com)
Dexter's smoky, emotionally intense vocals gracefully lend themselves to a variety of styles on this live recording of a concert she gave at the Metropolitan Room last December. Dexter's choices range from Larry Addison's gospel-infused "You've Got to Hurt Before You Heal" to Bessie Smith's playful "Reckless Blues," both of which have a palpable passion that's laced with wit. Throughout the CD, as well, she is more than ably supported by Ross Patterson's work as arranger and pianist.
James Tormé -- Love for Sale (Entertainment One Music)
Tormé demonstrates a remarkable felicity with a variety of songs that he defines as the "New American Songbook" on this genuinely satisfying release, which includes some jazzy interpretations of songs such as Michael Jackson's "Rock With You," the Cole Porter tune that gives the album its title, and even one by the singer's father, Mel Tormé, and Duke Ellington: "Reminiscing in Tempo." In addition, the CD's producer John Daversa provides several memorable original numbers, including a delicately conceived and movingly performed ballad, "Soft Songs."
The Music Man (Original London Cast) (Sepia Records)
Meredith Willson's classic musical sounds particularly sprightly on this London cast recording that features film star Van Johnson delivering a delightfully tuneful and charismatic turn as huckster Harold Hill. Patricia Lambert's work as the librarian Marian, who falls for his charms, is equally enjoyable. What makes this album most notable, though, is the inclusion of six demo recordings from Willson himself, including "The Blue Ridge Mountains" (an early version of the show's "The Wells Fargo Wagon.")
Jon Robyns -- Open Book (Curtain Records)
Robyns charmingly takes listeners on a brief retrospective of some of his favorite roles on this album that contains a grand variety of modern show tunes, including "Purpose" (from Avenue Q) and "Left Behind" (from Spring Awakening). Gina Beck joins Robyns for the deliciously haunting "Fade Away" (from Howard Goodall's The Hired Man), and with Mark Evans, the singer offers up a smile-inducing rendition of "Agony" (from Sondheim's Into the Woods).
The Saint of Bleecker Street (Original Broadway Cast) (Masterworks Broadway/ArkivMusic)
This original cast recording of Gian Carlo Menotti's modern urban opera soars with some thrilling choruses and arias. The piece centers on a young woman who's believed to be a saint (because of her visions and stigmata) and her protective, atheist brother. Gabrielle Ruggiero and David Poleri deliver splendidly in these roles, their voices blending thrillingly. There's also terrific supporting work from Leon Lisher as the local priest and Gloria Lane as a family friend.
Kate Baldwin -- She Loves Him (PS Classics)
Baldwin surveys the work of Sheldon Harnick with beauty and aplomb -- as well as with the aid of Harnick himself -- on this recording of a concert she offered at Feinstein's back in March. Her ability to both belt and delicately soar are in ample evidence, as she offers up such standards as "When Did I Fall in Love?" (from Fiorello) and the title track (a revision to the title song from She Loves Me). What might be most surprising and enjoyable is her deft touch with comedy numbers, particularly "The Ballad of the Shape of Things," a specialty song Harnick wrote for Charlotte Rae in the 1950s. Also notable is the gentle duet she and Harnick share in "Dear Sweet Sewing Machine" (a number cut from Fiddler on the Roof).
Irene Dunne -- Sings Kern & Other Rarities (Sepia Records)
Dunne's trilling soprano glides over a host of familiar songs by Kern on this exquisitely curated disc that preserves a variety of recordings she made during the 1940s. Notable are six previously unreleased tracks, including renditions of "They Didn't Believe Me" and "All the Things You Are," which, when heard alongside the "official" releases on the disc, display Dunne's subtle variations in approach to Kern's lush melodies. In addition, there's a plethora of music from Show Boat, including an extended promotional recording for the 1936 film, which also features Paul Robeson and Helen Morgan.
Sweet Bye and Bye (PS Classics)
Much like the 1939 time capsule that's opened in 2076 in this musical, this recording brings a scuttled Broadway-bound 1946 show, with score by Ogden Nash and Vernon Duke and a book by S.J. Perlman and Al Hirschfeld, to life in 2011. The disc is, quite simply, an astonishing restoration of a lost, somewhat misguided tuner by some theatrical greats, filled with gorgeous melodies and some truly witty lyrics, which are delivered by an A-list cast that includes Danny Burstein, Philip Chaffin, Marin Mazzie, and Michele Ragusa. Musical theater lovers will most likely be cheering the arrival of this release for years to come.
Tim Robbins & The Rogues Gallery Band (429 Records)
Academy Award winner and sometimes stage director/actor Tim Robbins demonstrates his prowess as singer/songwriter on this provocative disc. Robbins' work generally combines bluegrass rhythms and sounds with a certain new age etherealness, and his lyrics, notably "Moment in the Sun," contain a certain poetic elegance. As a singer, his earthy vocals bring to mind singers ranging from Bob Dylan to Sting. Although there are a couple of missteps, particularly the extended wails in "Dreams," this is an album worth sampling.