NICK WAKEHAM casts an eye over some of the latest CD releases.
The latest cd from SimG Records celebrates the words of Lesley Ross, with music provided by Mark Aspinall, Matthew Brind, John-Victor, James Williams, Gounod and Tchaikovsky.
For those who may not be up-to-date on who Lesley Ross is: he has written book or lyrics or sometimes both for Life Actually, The Diva Drag, The Jolly Folly of Polly the Scottish Trolley Dolly and Barry the Penguin’s Black and White Christmas, amongst others. You haven’t heard of them? Well, I would like to bet that after hearing this CD you would want to find out more.
The 25 tracks on this album are a compilation of lyrics written for his musicals through the years and features no less than 30 West End vocalists including Madalena Alberto, Daniel Boys, Sarah Earnshaw, Garry Lake, Rebecca Lock and Jon Robyns – a plethora of talent! So, what about the album itself? Even with all this talent, does it work? Yes, it does.
With its diverse collection of musical styles there is one common denominator running through – Ross’ witty lyrics. This isn’t to say that it is one comic song after another – some are bitter sweet but still with some clever lyrics and never becoming maudlin.
Some of the highlights on the album (for me at any rate) are: ‘Pick a Ticket’, ‘Him in 23B’, ‘At the Penguin Café’, ‘Harry’s Dream’ and ‘Why Do Whores Only Sing in Musicals?’ I say ‘some’ because I actually enjoyed most of the CD and it makes me want to keep an eye on what is coming from Ross’ pen in the future.
I have no difficulty in saying from the outset that Hugh Maynard has a powerful voice, shown off to its best in this, his debut album. I haven’t had the privilege of seeing Maynard in Miss Saigon but, by reading reviews, he has certainly made an impact, especially in the revival.
The album is a mixture of musical theatre, ballads and standards. Tracks include: ‘Something Inside So Strong’, ‘Bring Him Home’, ‘You’re the Voice’, ‘Kiss From a Rose’, ‘I (Who Have Nothing)’, ‘Get Here’ and ‘Bui Doi’.
He is accompanied by a really excellent band and, assuming he didn’t double track, excellent background singers. So here is the million-dollar question: why wasn’t I blown off my feet? For me, it has to do with the selection of songs. Five of the 12 tracks are covers of iconic classics. Instantly, when I think of those tracks, the original artists come into my head and I can’t shake them off. That is not to put the artist down in any respect, because on the PLUS side, the songs I was not so familiar with, I truly loved.
I hope this album is a great success because, if it is, then perhaps on his follow-up album Maynard will not feel the necessity of including as many classic songs. He doesn’t need to. His voice is magnificent and can very easily stand alone.
I have a great problem with operatically trained voices singing musical theatre. Kiri te Kanawa failed in West Side Story and My Fair Lady, Frederica von Stade and Teresa Stratas in Show Boat, Lesley Garrett in Carousel and The Sound of Music and I can hardly bear to type the following words: Joan Sutherland in an abysmal recording called Talking Pictures! All the above performers have one thing in common – wonderful voices trained in classical and operatic music. Voices for musical theatre have a different set of principles altogether and very, very rarely do the two successfully mix.
I’m no stranger to Sarah Fox. I have seen her live and also on a couple of YouTube videos. And, I have no problem in admitting that she does have a really lovely soprano voice. For the sake of this review I had a search through other YouTube videos and her versions of songs such as ‘I Can’t Help Singing’ and ‘Stranger in Paradise’ are exquisite. However, ‘I Can’t Help Singing’ was written for Deanna Durbin who had a clear soprano voice and ‘Stranger in Paradise’ is ‘stolen’ from Borodin’s Prince Igor, so both in the classical vein.
In this respect, perhaps half the tracks on this album ‘worked’ for me. Songs such as: ‘In the Still of the Night‘, ‘So in Love’, ‘Miss Otis Regrets’, ‘Night and Day’ and ‘True Love’. However, for as many of the tracks that I liked, there were almost the same amount that I thought didn’t work quite so well; ‘It’s De-lovely’, ‘The Physician’ and ’Brush Up Your Shakespeare’.
This is a huge shame because, as I have already said, I do like Fox’s voice and would have been much happier listening to her singing classical, opera, operetta, or even a compendium of musical theatre songs that lend themselves to a classically trained voice: ‘Glitter and Be Gay’, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, ‘Baubles, Bangles and Beads’, ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone – anyway, you get my drift!
In a way I didn’t want to write this review because I don’t want to put people off listening to Fox and, if this album gets more people interested in trawling YouTube and hearing what a lovely voice she possesses, then it is a good thing. A singer relies heavily on their accompaniment and I have to say that the artist is exceptionally well served by James Burton on piano – and also on vocals throughout the album.