CD COLUMN: Bring On the Music
Reviews of Bring It On, Julie Andrews & Carol Burnett: The CBS Television Specials, Liza Minnelli: Live at the Winter Garden, Sweeney Todd, and eight more recordings.
This sample featuring a trio of catchy tunes from this musical about the world of competitive cheerleading will certainly make anyone who's only been thinking about trying to catch the show that's currently touring the country step up their efforts. Composer Tom Kitt's melodies are a great fusion of hip-hop, R&B, and funk sounds, and Lin-Manuel Miranda's fitted them with some amusingly sassy lyrics, which the company delivers with winning flair.
Baba Brinkman - The Canterbury Tales Remixed (Lit Fuse Records)
This erudite and amusing fusion of great epic poems with contemporary rap/hip-hop rhythms and language proves to be as entertaining on disc as it did in the theater. Brinkman cunningly makes even the most ancient of tales seem terrifically relevant, and particularly shrewd is his retelling of "The Merchant's Tale." Brinkman is distributing the recording through Bandcamp, which encodes the lyrics so that you can read along on iPhones and tablet devices while listening.
Julie Andrews & Carol Burnett - The CBS Television Specials (Masterworks Broadway)
This double set features the soundtracks for two CBS specials performed by Andrews and Burnett. The 1962 Carnegie Hall show has already been available for a while as a digital download/disc-on-demand, but the 1972 Lincoln Center disc has not. As one might expect, both recordings burst with the legendary stars' infectious energy as well as their incredible friendship, and their rapid-fire history of 1960s music is simply impossible to resist.
The Good Old Bad Old Days (Original London Cast Recording) (Kritzerland)
There are bounteous musical charms in this 1972 tuner from Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse -- a sort of music-hall encounter between God (named Gramps) and the Devil (named Bubba and played by Newley) that's been filtered through the variety shows of the era. Listening to this cast recording, it's sadly easy to understand why the show received some blisteringly bad reviews. Lyrically, it's all a bit hokey, but the melodies are toe-tapping delights.
Nikki Renée Daniels - Home (NikkiReneeDaniels.com)
Daniels, currently on Broadway in The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, lends her warm and supple voice to songs ranging from traditional spirituals to musical theater standards and rarities on this stirring and often uplifting disc. Alongside such songs as Home (from The Wiz) and Scott Alan's song of the same name, listeners will find Daniels soaring through a terrific medley of "Summertime" and the Bergmans' "The Summer Knows." And when she's joined by Tituss Burgess for "Who Would Imagine A King," the album proves particularly dazzling.
Liza Minnelli - Live at the Winter Garden (Masterworks Broadway)
After spending nearly 40 years in limbo because of rights issues, this live recording of Minnelli's engagement at Broadway's Winter Garden Theatre hits CD, and there's no doubt her fans will welcome this release that features the mutli-award-winning singer at her peppiest best. Even if the Las Vegas-y medley of "If You Can Read My Mind" paired with "Come Back to Me" sounds a little retro-campy by 2012 standards, Minnelli's deftness with some of Kander and Ebb's specialty material for the show atones for it.
Nick Blaemire and the Hustle (Nick-Blaemire.com)
Blaemire, currently on Broadway in Godspell, demonstrates his skills as a composer/lyricist in this EP for himself and his band. The six songs on the disc are a mix of classic jazz, contemporary sounds, and even a healthy dose of funk. It's a genuinely satisfying musical combination, and Blaemire's vocals shift from gravelly and plaintive wails to smooth croons with unexpected ease.
One Man & Two Guvnors (Original Cast Recording) (DRG Records)
This collection of giddy 1960s-sounding tunes by Grant Olding will help anyone who has had a chance to see the hit farce on Broadway relive the production's hilarity. For others, the songs -- a sort of fusion of The Monkees and twangy bluegrass -- are clever joys and they are performed with aplomb by the show's original band. The disc also contains the show's one girl group number: the effervescent "Lighten Up and Lay Low," which Claire Lams, Jemina Rooper and Suzie Toase deliver with infinite fizz.
Rebecca Pidgeon - Slingshot (Decca)
With her newest CD, Pidgeon uses her silky and slightly ethereal voice to delicious effect as she delivers a dozen tunes on this enormously enjoyable disc. Many of the tunes are originals, which the singer has penned with a variety of collaborators, and they deftly blend folk, vaguely Celtic, and rock sounds and rhythms. One particularly notable track is the one Pidgeon's written with her husband, Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet: the melancholy country waltz "Baby Please Come Home Again."
Sweeney Todd (The 2012 London Cast Recording) (First Night Records)
Another "demon barber" comes to disc in this new recording -- and he's both warmer, and thus, creepier, than ever before, thanks to Michael Ball's gorgeously crafted turn in the title role in the production that's currently running at the West End's Adelphi Theatre. As Sweeney's partner in crime, Mrs. Lovett, Imelda Staunton delivers an equally intense, and zestfully comic, turn, and their work on this somewhat abbreviated rendering of the lengthy Sondheim score is complemented terrifically by Lucy May Barker and Luke Brady's work as the young lovers, and Peter Polycarpou as the oily Beadle Bamford.
John Owen-Jones - Unmasked (Sain Records)
Owen-Jones' clarion tenor carries an electrifying jolt and a rock-and-roll star's intensity -- which proves to be the perfrect combination for modern musical theater anthems like Frank Wildhorn's "This Is the Moment" (from Jekyll and Hyde) and Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Til I Hear You Sing" (from Love Never Dies). And when he tempers his gusto for numbers like Stephen Sondheim's "Being Alive" (from Company) or a medley of Kander and Ebb tunes (which also features opera legend Bryn Terfel) the effect is simply sublime.
Leslie Uggams - Uptown Downtown (Kelvin-Pratt Company Inc.)
It's hard to believe that Uggams is toasting her decades-long career with this genuinely satisfying album. Listen to her sing "A TIsket A Tasket" (which she performed at the Apollo as a child); it sounds like she's maybe just a precocious 'tween. The disc also includes a marvelous rendering of "My Own Morning" (reprised from her Tony Award-winning turn in Hallelujah, Baby!) and a superlatively moving take on "If He Walked Into My Life," among its many treasures.