“Lock the door and stop complaining, gather ’round and listen well…”
Between them, Amber Riley, Beverley Knight and Cassidy Janson have racked up Olivier Awards and accolades aplenty and their mutual respect has led to them joining forces to create musical supergroup Leading Ladies. And working with producers Brian Rawling and Paul Meehan through East West Records (Warner), their debut album Songs From The Stage is about to be released.
Across the 14 tracks of the collection, there’s a variety of approaches as they tackle songs from a wide range of musicals. Each singer gets a couple of solo numbers, and they all chip in with backing vocals on some of those, but the highlights come when the trio sing together. And none more so than on an utterly transcendent version of Carole King’s ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ whose close harmonies are goosebump-inducingly extraordinary, the marriage of their voices a perfect alchemy.
Interpretations of Rent’s ‘Seasons of Love’ and Once’s ‘Falling Slowly’ also capture a similar sort of spine-tingling feel, the vocal arrangements by Beverley Knight emphasising a restrained but no-less-emotional delivery, recognising that deep feeling can be just as effective as fireworks even from such powerhouse singers. Even in old stalwart ‘Memory’ from Cats, there’s a purity to the performance that is a refreshing counterpoint to the contemporary vogue for riffing.
There’s also fun to be had here too, in more light-hearted numbers like the energetic ‘Raise The Roof’ from Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party and the head-over-heels giddiness of Hamilton’s ‘Helpless’ (with the assistance of Sky Adams) – the delivery of “I’m just sayin’, if you really loved me, you would share him” is pretty much worth the price of the album alone. And those shimmering harmonies are used to great effect in a sparkling version of Dreamgirls’ ‘One Night Only’.
And though each performer revisits the shows that have made their reputations – Janson and Beautiful, Knight and Memphis – there’s arguably more interest in the other songs they pick. Janson’s breakneck race though Funny Girl’s ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ is genuinely thrilling and the album’s closer, Riley’s gentle ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ (from Meet Me in St. Louis), showcases just how beautiful her voice is.
A tour-de-force from three remarkable singers then but most excitingly, the perfect example of something being greater than the sum of its parts, how authentic collaboration can reap such rich rewards. Just fantastic.