“Now you’re here, where else would I be?”
I was lucky enough to catch the Lance Horne concert at the Garrick at the end of January at which his album First Things Last was showcased, but as the cd features a mixture of both British and American musical theatre stars, the gig saw lots of stand-ins putting their own (mostly) brilliant spins on the songs. But I love the CD so very much that I always intended to review it separately as well but it has taken me a wee while to get round to it…
Opening with Alan Cumming’s witty American and taking a swift detour in soft rock territory with the rather bland ‘In The Name Of The Father’, Horne’s strength as a songwriter is demonstrated in a frankly astonishingly good and incredibly varied run of seven songs which make the purchase of this album pretty much essential. From the mid-tempo story songs like ‘Leap’ performed with transatlantic charm by the delightful Emma Williams and Julie Atherton’s powerhouse vocals on ‘Every Moment’ to the wry humour of ‘Haircut’ with a great turn from Ricki Lake (nicely erasing any memory of Graham Norton’s efforts…!), there’s such strength in depth here.
It is in the ballads where Horne shows real quality. The delicacy of songs like Daphne Rubin-Vega’s ‘Orpheus’ and Cheyenne Jackson’s ‘Strange Bird’ belie their persuasiveness with such moving lyrics and vocal performances which are beautifully understated: the temptation in ‘Strange Bird’ in particular to just belt out the final third must be so strong but it is all the more powerful for Jackson’s elegant restraint. And Hannah Waddingham’s passionate ‘Last Day On Earth’ is a wrecking-ball of powerful emotion, her lyrical clarity combined with the peaceful acceptance of the message of the song making it nothing more than essential listening. And last but by no means least by any stretch of the imagination is Meow Meow’s sensational yet heartbreaking ‘January’, a perfect distillation of every French film you’ve ever seen into 4 minutes of wistful regret at a lost love, lent an even greater poignancy with the news that The Umbrellas of Cherbourg has just posted early closing notices for May 21st.
After this incredible run, the CD never quite hits the same heights again for me, though Lea DeLaria’s jazzy ‘Hurry Up And Take Your Time’ and Paul Spicer’s emotionally open ‘6 Hours’ come close, but as an album of 15 songs, the overall feel is of one of excellent quality and it really holds together as an album despite the diversity of song-writing and talent performing here. I’m not sure I get much of a sense of where Horne sits as a musical theatre writer from this, just because so many of these songs are just amazing chart-worthy songs, but I suppose that is the danger when cherry-picking for a compilation CD but regardless, I am very excited to see which of his shows make it over to London to find out for myself. And just to reaffirm, First Things Last comes with my highest recommendation, a definite buy!