Fine February CDS
Reports on 20 new discs, including Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall, Robert Creighton's Ain't We Got Fun, The Nunziatas' Make Someone Happy, and many more.
Terrific melodies combine with handsomely crafted lyrics on this delightful disc of ten songs written and performed by Lutvak at the piano, including "Exit Right," from Songs From An Unmade Bed. And while this song typifies the kind of sparking humor that can course through the writer's work, the disc also has some gorgeous love songs, particularly "Unexpected Complications" and "A Lover of High Wire," and a remarkably touching, classically inspired tribute to his father, "Museums."
Robert Creighton - Ain't We Got Fun (LML Music)
Creighton, currently on Broadway in Anything Goes, turns the clock back 100 years on this merry disc, featuring such classics as "My Buddy" and "I'll Be Seeing You," as well as the title track. There's an ebullience to Creighton's vocals that truly evokes the period he's toasting, and when he's joined by the likes of Joel Grey ("Give My Regards to Broadway") and Heidi Blickenstaff ("You Are My Sunshine"), the effects are sublime. The biggest tribute to Creighton's work may be that two of his original songs for a musical about James Cagney perfectly blend into the tapestry of older tunes.
Cautiously Optimistic: The Music of Scott Evan Davis (Sonic Landscapes Music)
Songwriter Davis has an ear for the classical in his melodies and one for the edginess of the contemporary in his lyrics, and these two seemingly contradictory aspects of his music collide with remarkable ease in the 12 songs on this disc. Davis has attracted some A-list talent, including Faith Prince and Joshua Dixon for "Walk a Little Slower," an enchanting duet about the support mothers and sons can give one another; and Lisa Howard, who finds the pain in the wryly amusing "He's Perfect," about a woman rationalizing about the man she's choosing to marry.
Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan (Amnesty International)
Seventy six of Dylan's songs -- both familiar and obscure -- are brought to life by an extraordinary array of performers on this four-CD set that's been put together to raise funds for Amnesty International. A great number of the artists involved are familiar from their theater work, including Darren Criss' delicately intense "New Morning," Pete Townshend's driving and slightly honky-tonk "Corrina, Corrina," and Patti Smith's deeply felt take on "Drifter's Escape." Also notable are such tracks as Ziggy Marley's "Blowin' in the Wind" and Carly Simon's "Just Like a Woman."
Wilfried Van den Brande - Cole Porter Sessions (coleportersessions.com)
A trans-Atlantic love affair with the songs of Cole Porter has resulted in this ambitious and expansive five-disc set that encompasses not only vast numbers of the songwriters' best known hits, but also many rarely heard tunes. In fact, there are two songs that are getting first-time recordings (including the jaunty "Longing for Dear Old Broadway"), along with tunes like "The Kling-Kling Bird in the Divi-Divi Tree" (from Jubilee) and "A Little Skipper From Heaven" (from Red, Hot and Blue). Such tracks, which also feature Daniel Capelletti's lush arrangements for the Nueremberg Symphony Orchestra, make the albums de rigueur for Porter aficionados.
David Merrick Presents Hits From His Broadway Hits (Masterworks Broadway/Arkiv)
Songs from some of the most successful shows from the late 1950s and early 1960s are collected on this swell disc. John Gary offers up songs like "What Kind of Fool Am I?" (from Stop The World...) and a gender-reversed "Small World" (from Gypsy) with a warm, almost dreamy, tenor, while Ann-Margret is on hand to purr her own brand of innocent sexiness into "Love Makes The World Go Round" (from Carnival) and "As Long As He Needs Me" (from Oliver!). Bigger numbers -- like "Hello, Dolly!" -- are handled with fizzy aplomb by The Merrill Staten Voices.
The Doyle and Debbie Show (Doyle and Debbie)
The songs of great country western stars from the "Red States" may echo in listeners' ears as they listen to this recording of this Chicago hit, but the laugh-out-loud-funny lyrics of the show come decidedly from the "Blue" ones. The show stars Bruce Arntson, who's written the numbers, and Jenny Littleton, both of whom have the chops to belt these country-fried gems out with gusto, whether it's "Blue Stretch Pants," an ode to love found at a county fair, or "For the Children," a wickedly conceived anthem about 21st-century child-rearing.
T. Oliver Reid - Do I Love You (Yellow Sound Label)
Reid uses his lightly smoky baritone to celebrate romance in all of its joyous, exuberant, and sometimes sad incarnations on this 13-track disc. The singer has selected a host of standards from the American Songbook, including Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler's "Let's Fall in Love," Rodgers and Hart's "I Wish I Were in Love Again," and the Bergmans' "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," which have been given some smooth jazz/R&B arrangements by Lawrence Yurman. The genuinely satisfying disc also contains a couple of nifty surprises, including Gary Geld and Peter Udell's "I Got Love" (from Purlie).
Steve Tyrell - I'll Take Romance (Concord Records)
Tyrell brings a classic bluesman's earthiness and grittiness to this album of love songs, filling each with a palpable soulfulness. The singer, supported by Bob Marin's excellent arrangements, offers up numbers with theater roots, including an ethereal take on Cole Porter's "All of You," as well as ones from the world of pop music, including William Best and Deek Watson's "(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons," which courses with a 1950s beat. One further highlight: Oscar Hammerstein and Ben Oakland's "I'll Take Romance," a grand duet with Judith Hill.
Inside Out (Original Off Broadway Cast Album) (Kritzerland)
This cast recording of the 1996 Off-Broadway show about the members of a women's therapy group and their leader has been out of print for a while, which has been a pity, because it features some wittily conceived and executed songs from Adryan Russ and Doug Haverty that brim with pop appeal. Adding to the luster of the album is the show's top-notch cast, which includes the likes of Ann Crumb, Harriet D. Foy, Jan Maxwell, and Cass Morgan.
Given the subject of this highly personal album, which pays tribute to the songwriter's father while meditating on the elder man's survival in a Nazi concentration camp, listeners might expect it to be a maudlin affair. But, in fact, the 13 songs on this disc prove to be quite the opposite, teeming with energy and vigor. Schonfeld fascinatingly fuses rock, Jewish prayer, funk, Latin rhythms, and other styles with impressive sureness and craft and fits these ambitious melodies with rigorously simple, yet pungent, lyrics. It's a disc that deserves to be savored (and genuinely enjoyed) over the course of multiple plays.
Will and Anthony Nunziata - Make Someone Happy (willandanthony.com)
The Nunziata brothers' shimmering tones and deftly precise harmonies make not only this disc's title song (the Jule Styne-Betty Comden-Adolph Green classic), but also such tunes as Sondheim's "Everybody Says Don't" and Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" unquestionable joys. When they offer solos, both singers prove to be equally pleasing, particularly Will's rendition of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens' "Nothing to Lose But Your Heart," which throbs with aching pungency, and Anthony's gracefully gentle interpretation of Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia's "I Cannot Hear the City" (from Sweet Smell of Success).
Music From the TEAM's Mission Drift (the TEAM)
There's something keenly infectious about Heather Christian's songs from this intelligent, trippy music-theater piece about American capitalism as seen through the story of two immigrants who maneuver through 250 years of American history from colonial times to the present. This tale may not spring to life from listening to the recording of the musical, but what does become electrifyingly apparent from Christian's fusion of bluegrass, blues, rock, and electronica is that the show is a direct (and worthy) descendant of another sociopolitically engaged musical that started downtown: Hair.
My Land's Shore (Original London Cast) (SimG Records)
This studio recording of Robert Gould and Christopher J. Orton's new musical, set in the early 1830s, revisits the true story of a Welsh miner caught up in a swirl of tragic events following a series of protests against the conditions he and his fellow laborers endured. Orton's music has a churning bombast that's both appropriate for the industrial setting of the piece, and also strangely retro (bringing to mind the mega-musicals of the late 1980s). The disc features a fine company that delivers the score with brio, particularly Kelly-Anne Gower and Sarah Lark as the women who struggle alongside the men they love.
Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall (Decca Broadway)
Anyone who's ever wished for a recording containing all of Andrew Lloyd Webber's music for this record-smashing musical will undoubtedly cheer the arrival of this new release of the concert that toasted the show's 25th anniversary in London. The disc features a sure-voiced Ramin Karimloo in the title role, Sierra Boggess provides some lovely work as Christine, and Hadley Fraser makes for a particularly commanding Raoul. Further, the sumptuous score sounds terrific, with Anthony Inglis leading the 46-person orchestra that features an actual organ.
Donald Ashwander - Sunshine and Shadow (New World Records)
The music on this utterly charming two-disc, 43-track set may sound as if it came from a time when Scott Joplin was "king of rag time," but in fact the majority of the melodies on here come from within most Gen-Xers lifetimes. Ashwander -- who plays his compositions and is joined by Sharon Moore for those with vocals -- creates light, sensitive syncopations that tease the ear, and frequently the melodies have a surprising emotional resonance and heft. Two particular highlights are "Perdido Bay Rag" and the "Astor Place Rag-Waltz," which contains some marvelous minor shifts.
A Thurber Carnival (Masterworks Broadway/ArkivMusic)
The effervescent wit of James Thurber -- infused with bubbly 1950s cocktail music from The Don Elliott Quartet -- springs to life on this smile-inducing album that preserves this 1960 revue, featuring the likes of Peggy Cass, Tom Ewell, and Alice Ghostley. The recording opens and closes with two sequences that feature the company effortlessly bandying the writer's bon mots; and seven dramatizations of his stories, including "The Unicorn in the Garden," about a man's whimsical escape from his unhappy marriage, and his sadly ironic vision of the indomitability of the human spirit and romance, "The Last Flower."
Victor Herbert: Works for Cello and Piano/Solo Piano Works (New World Records)
Simple "parlor" pieces -- works that were intended for ordinary people to play at home -- are the welcome focus of this two-disc set, which brings 26 absolutely beguiling works by the man behind such operettas as Babes in Toyland and Naughty Marietta into the 21st Century. Pianist William Hicks and cellist Jerry Grossman bring Herbert's graceful and elegant melodies to life with finesse, making them almost impossible to resist. Particularly enticing are "The Little Red Lark," a duet which has echoes of the "Old South" in it, and the whimsical piano solo "Scherzo."
War Horse (Sony Masterworks)
This recording preserves the music and the songs that course underneath and through the hit play, running on Broadway and in the West End. The stirring and majestic instrumental pieces come from Adrian Sutton, while the moving, sometimes melancholic, folk tunes, hauntingly voiced by accordionist Tim van Eyken, come from John Tams, who also provides some vocals. It's a grand mix that not only serves as a keepsake for anyone who's seen the show, but also provides a kind of aural excursion to the U.K. for anyone who hasn't.
Melody Hollis - Welcome to Melodyland (Kritzerland)
13-year-old Hollis -- seen on Broadway in White Christmas and in title role in Annie in L.A. opposite Andrea McArdle -- displays an impressive set of pipes on this recording, taped live during a West Coast cabaret appearance. Hollis' wide-ranging choices include "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid, a medley of songs by the Sherman Brothers, and Mary Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim's "Boy From…" (from The Mad Show), all of which display her ability to belt out a tune, But the real stunner on the album is "Children Will Listen" (from Into the Woods).