“It’s like that there’s a music playing in your ear”
For one reason or another, Ruthie Henshall and I had never crossed paths until this last week but with two different performances on two consecutive days, she left me in no doubt as to how well-earned her reputation is. As Sally in Follies, she broke our hearts whilst losing her mind and as Mrs Wilkinson in Billy Elliot, she beautifully embodies the kind of teacher we’d all love to have. So I thought it was high time to indulge in the collection of albums she has released, starting with I’ve Loved These Days from 2013.
Naturally, there’s some indulging of her hard-won stagey credentials with rip-roaring takes on classics like ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ and a highly enjoyable romp through ‘Adelaide’s Lament’. There’s also a nod or two to her theatrical CV – a return trip to Cook County Jail but on the other side of the bars as she tackles ‘When You’re Good To Mama’, knowing exactly of what she speaks. And her current turn in Billy Elliot is represented with an elegantly powerful rendition of Billy’s anthem ‘Electricity’.
But there’s real pleasure too when the material diverges from the stage to apply Henshall’s gorgeously restrained tone to songs like Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ and Don McLean’s ‘Vincent’. The instinctive reaction on reading the track-listing might err towards disappointment to see these oft-covered pop standards but with these arrangements, this voice, they sing anew with understated conviction and compassion. So too the two Billy Joel numbers, the title track and ‘Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)’, both soaring in their simplicity.
There really isn’t a duff track on this compilation, not a mean feat to achieve by any means, and it surely comes from Henshall’s determination to show us not just what her favourite songs are but just how much they mean to her. Sondheim’s ‘Send In The Clowns’ comes laced with stripped-back regret, ‘A Hard Day’s Night receives a swinging version that is just oodles of fun and if there was any doubting her jazz credentials, the vocal control on ‘Blizzard of Lies’ is just exceptional, seduction dripping from every sustained note. Recommended.