Much like a luxuriously fruited and brandy drenched Christmas pudding, Simon Callow’s voice (surely a national treasure in itself) serves up the festive fable in a recording that lasts a touch longer than the hour.
It is a delight to review Dan Burton’s debut album Broadway Melodies. As choreographer Stephen Mear has long known, Burton is currently amongst the finest of musical theatre “triple threats” (defined as talented in all three skills of song, dance and acting) and a man who unassumingly provides an assured touch of class to all his roles, whether they be leading or support.
Released earlier this month, Favourite Sins is 4-track EP of musical theatre tracks written by actor/singer/songwriter Alex James Ellison with lyricists Robert Gould (whose work I have previously reviewed here and here) and Jimmy Granstrom.
Listening to a CD offers a greater opportunity to consider a show’s songs in more detail. Reality TV is fertile ground for writers. A couple of years ago I Can’t Sing! had a short-lived outing at the London Palladium, lampooning The X-Factor.
Robert J. Sherman (he of the illustrious songwriting line of Shermans and no relation to Rory) has scored the reflective Mondays, recorded by Rosemary Ashe. There’s an innate sense of wisdom in Ashe’s timbre.
Sides is Nadim Naaman’s second album and it is a pleasure to catch up with this talented young man’s vocal interpretations of some of Disney’s and the West End’s greats along with a selection of his own compositions.
To coincide with her current tour, Liza Pulman has released an album entitled Liza Pulman Sings Hollywood, and it’s really worth a listen. The Diva from trio Fascinating Aida, has included a selection of classic Hollywood movie tracks on the list and none of them disappoint. So spot on is the quality of this album that it’s difficult to pick favourites to give you an idea of what to expect.
Like a fine cognac, Frances Ruffelle’s most recent album deliciously distils her passion for France. Remembering that it was Ruffelle who created the role of Eponine in Les Miserables, a show that was to evolve into one of musical theatre’s few truly global sensations, that she is in love with all things French is hardly a surprise.
An informal performance of Buddle and Connor’s new song cycle Heart of Winter offered a chance to hear this new-release played live, by Corinne Priest, and to discover its collection of witty and charming songs alongside a stunning musical accompaniment.
Scott Alan has recently brought out a Deluxe version of the album he released last autumn that featured the paired voices of Cynthia Erivo and Oliver Tompsett. Alan has worked with many of today’s musical theatre stars, but with Tompsett and in particular Erivo, there is a muse-like connection between the writer and his performing talent.
You’d think that there is no more to be said about George Bernard Shaw. You’d be wrong. As Professor Christopher Innes and mezzo-soprano Brigitte Bogar say in the informative booklet for their recently released CD of Shaw’s Musical Universe, the songs composed by GBS and his opera-singer mother Lucinda Carr-Shaw “are almost completely unknown”.
There’s an eclectic, relaxed charm to this collection of Scott Alan’s songs as performed by Cynthia Erivo and Oliver Tompsett. With Alan having enjoyed a modest UK residency this summer / autumn, there is a natural evolution that has seen this album born out of a collaboration of three people who evidently enjoy and above all complement each other’s talents.
Premiering at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Lovebirds marks some gorgeous new musical theatre from Robert J. Sherman. The son and nephew of legendary tunesmiths Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman, Robert J.’s show harks back to the era of vaudeville, Scott Fitzgerald and days of schmaltzy, beautifully voiced romance.
Just released on CD, A Spoonful of Sherman is a delightful recording that preserves one of the most sparkling revues of recent years. Staged at the St James Theatre in 2014, the show captured the songwriting genius of Richard and Robert Sherman. I reviewed it then (here) and an extract of my review, now to be found quoted on Wikipedia reads “It is a wonder that this charming show has not been staged before. Amidst all of Broadway’s giant songwriting partnerships, none reaches out to the child within us quite like the legacy of the Sherman Brothers. Cleverly crafted songs that speak of hope against adversity, written in verses that talk to every age.” Listening to the CD now, those words ring ever true.
In a music business that can too often be driven by corporates, manufactured clones or finely choreographed campaigns, it is easy to become disillusioned. But for those living in the hope of finding honest music from real musicians, there is much to be celebrated in Michael Armstrong.
A true music fan, Armstrong devours the work of his idols – Paul McCartney, Steely Dan, Billy Joel and more – living and breathing every note, chord progression and lyric from the greats and it shows. His debut album, two years in the making, has been built upon a gift for storytelling, that works both lyrically and musically.
If nothing else, the names featured on the liner notes speak volumes. Alongside Armstrong, Keith Bessey whose credits include Elton John, 10cc and The Ramones co-produces, whilst guitarist Elliott Randall (Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers) features on three tracks, including the superb The Cola Paranoia. Lead singer of The Hollies, Peter Howarth, lends his vocals to Armstrong’s debut single, The Radio Years – a recording that has deservedly garnered much support from BBC Radio 2 airplay. That the album was recorded in The Beatles’ hometown of Liverpool is a source of much spiritual and artistic pride to Armstrong.
Armstrong is a talented writer and musician, displaying both depth and character. Vocally he offers a passing similarity to Jon Bon Jovi and even when he’s not singing, his arrangements are a delight, notably a gloriously slowed down cover of Billy Joel’s Allentown.
While the whole record has clearly been put together in a considered way – the two year process shows and is appreciated – there are particular highlights including Innocence Of Men and a forthcoming single The Contented Man (These Halcyon Days).
Packed with catchy melodies, harmonies and rousing choruses, the album is but built upon stories of substance. One can empathise with the Armstrong’s characters whilst his lyrics tell of real and relatable issues. Like the musical greats he has learned from, Michael Armstrong has created a truly memorable album.
For more information visit http://www.michaelarmstrongmusic.co.uk/ The Radio Years is available to download now from iTunes and Amazon. Michael Armstrong The Album is due for release on 29 June
Guest reviewer: Bhakti Gajjar