March to This Music
Reviews of 10 new CDs, including the Broadway cast recording of Once and discs by Gavin Creel and Gay Marshall.
The enormously satisfying and moving musical Once has recently transferred smoothly to Broadway, and this original cast recording impeccably reproduces the show's acoustic sound. As one listens to the company of actor-musicians deliver Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova's pungent tunes, it truly sounds as if they have gathered for an intimate, one-on-one performance.
In many respects, this album is the best way to savor the exceptional nuances that abound in the show, starting with Martin Lowe's sensitive arrangements that fuse melancholy and exuberance, as well as wistful optimism with the despair of genuine heartbreak. As the album plays, it's spine-tingling to hear how a single violin can enter into a musical phrase at just the right moment to enhance an emotion.
The CD -- which comes with a richly illustrated booklet -- also preserves the two electrifying performances at the center of the show. Steve Kazee, playing the street guitarist known just as "Guy," imbues each note with unquestionable passion, using both his rich, silky smooth lower register and his crisp upper to exquisite effect. As the woman he loves, a Czech pianist known simply as "Girl," Cristin Milioti's voice has an icy intensity that simply sears through the music. And when their voices combine -- particularly on the Academy Award-winning "Falling Slowly" -- the result is astonishingly poignant.
A host of terrific artists are heard alongside the two central performers. Particularly notable is Andy Taylor, who plays the bank manager who reluctantly loans Guy and Girl the money to record a demo CD of his music. When singing "Abandoned in Bandon," a comic country-western song he's penned with Lowe and book writer Enda Walsh, Taylor impressively allows himself to sound utterly (and endearingly) ridiculous. Will Connolly, who plays one of Girl's flatmates, uses his tenor to make the ballad "The Moon" hauntingly ethereal.
One caveat for anyone contemplating buying the recording, Sony has opted to release bonus tracks through not one, but two, companies. The Barnes and Noble edition of the album contains two tracks, "Raglan Road" and "Ešt? si já pohár vína zaplatím," not found elsewhere, while the iTunes release contains "Chandler's Wife," (which can be downloaded as a single track). For anyone wanting to have the entire recording, buying a copy from the first source and then, downloading the single track from the second is the way to go.
Songs from across a span of nearly 100 years amusingly spring to life as Halpern explores the idea of "appetite" in its broadest sense with this musical compendium, intimately delivered with just piano accompaniment from Ron Roy. Halpern includes the sort of food-related numbers that might be expected, such as On The Town's "I Can Cook Too," along with some genuine surprises, like Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's paean to acting "I Was Here" (from The Glorious Ones) and a swell medley of David Shire and Richard Maltby's "I Want It All" (from Baby) and David Friedman's My Simple Christmas Wish.
Gershwin: Concerto in F; Rhapsody No. 2 / I Got Rhythm Variations (Naxos)
This disc, headlined by pianist Orion Weiss performing with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, contains three ravishing pieces of George Gershwin's orchestral music, including the sumptuous "Concerto in F," a work orchestrated entirely by the composer. It is terrifically complemented by "Rhapsody No. 2," a piece meant to capture the driving energies of New York City that Gershwin wrote for the 1931 film Delicious. The third offering on this immensely satisfying recording is the playful "I Got Rhythm" variations, which contains some marvelous riffs on the song so famous from Girl Crazy.
Tony Award nominee Creel knocks an octet of tunes out of the park on his third solo album. He and co-writer Ben Cullum work in a variety of pop modes, offering up songs that have an urgency and urban vibrancy, particularly the driving title track, an intensely felt break-up song for the 21st Century. There's also "Whitney Houston" a paean to the importance that the recently deceased singer plays in one young man's life (and which was written well before her passing) -- which also gets an infectious remix as a bonus track. Chances are this disc will become a key part of this summer's soundtrack for many a beach or deck party.
Gay Marshall - Go Back Where You Stayed Last Night (GayMarshall.com)
Marshall channels her inner Sophie Tucker and Ethel Waters for this disc, which revisits some long-neglected blues numbers from the 1920s and 1930s. It's a delightful collection that includes music by Eubie Blake ("My Handyman Ain't Handy No More") and Duke Ellington ("I Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues"), and Marshall proves her deftness with the tunes' humor and double-entendres. Alongside Marshall's spicy vocals are some fine solos from members of the five-piece band, including pianist Mike Sands and trombonist Bruce Lehtinen.
The In-Between (LauraTisdall.com)
This album compellingly introduces seven songs from British songwriter Laura Tisdall's new musical, which puts a fantastical spin on a story about two adult sisters struggling with how their tragic past has informed their present. Tisdall works in a musical theater-rock vernacular that aptly fits the characters and their angst-ridden relationship, and the lyrics have a decided pungency. It's little wonder that the likes of Julie Atherton and Daniel Boys are among the gifted singers who have taken part in this concept recording.
A bevy of tunes from the Great American Songbook get a swank and brassy spin on this marvelous new disc, recorded live during one of the singer's performances in New York. Genecco's robust, clarion vocals give even the airiest of numbers, "A Lot of Livin' To Do" (from Bye Bye Biridie) terrific heft, and when she turns to songs like Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin" and the Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen classic "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home," there is a sublime delicacy and playfulness to her work.
Red Tails (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Sony Masterworks)
Grammy Award winner and Broadway composer Terence Blanchard blends theatrical bombast, militaristic coolness, and precision in his music for this film about the Tuskegee airmen of World War II. It's a soaring soundtrack that can often thrill, particularly as performed by Prague's FILMharmonic Orchestra and Choir. Sadly, it is occasionally undermined by the composer's integration of anachronistic 1970s funk into portions of the score. In addition to Blanchard's music, the disc also includes four period songs, including The Andrews Sisters' infectious "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy."
Meredith Braun - Someone Else's Story (Stage Door Records)
Braun, who originated the role of Betty in London's Sunset Boulevard, surveys a wide range of musical theater and movie music on her first solo album. She uses her lovely soprano to touching effect on such tunes at the title track (from Chess), "China Doll" (from the West End musical Marguerite), and the title song from Love Never Dies. Further, the disc takes a charming continental turn with two "bonus tracks," particularly "L'arc en ciel" (or "The Rainbow Connection") from The Muppet Movie.
Somewhere in My Mind: The Music of Joe Sterling (SimG Records)
Sterling's ear for both bubbly and emotionally charged pop music tunes and his deft ability for storytelling (lyrics are by both Sterling and Robert Gould) are wonderfully showcased on this disc, which features a host of grand British stage performers. Among the album's highlights are the effervescent "Make My Heart Go Beat," delivered with exuberant sweetness by Joe Slovick, the bittersweet folk ballad "The Sky Looks Gray to Me," which Rhiannon Sarah Porter fills with heartfelt plaintiveness, and "Here We Are," a bouncy, Celtic-inspired duet that Jack Shalloo and Jonathan Eio render with joyous warmth and merry bonhomie.