From Coldplay to Claude Debussy, crossover soprano Justine Balmer’s debut album Simple Thing is a collection of songs that work well together
“Stick, or twist
The choice is yours”
With an intriguing bio that takes her from musicals to cruise ships to shopping channels, contemporary crossover soprano Justine Balmer’s debut album Simple Thing is 5 years in the making. The mix of pop, opera and classical is a seductive one and though the track-listing might seem diverse at first glance – Aerosmith next to Andrew Lloyd Webber, Coldplay rubbing shoulders with Claude Debussy – such is the serene force of Balmer’s voice that she really does make them all feel like they belong together here.
There’s a pleasing sense of balance too, you’d be hard-pressed to tell which genre Balmer prefers. A tender rendition of ‘Fix You’ with fellow crossover artists Blake, is as lushly beautiful as Fauré’s ‘In Paradisum’, the lightness of Dvořák’s ‘Song to the Moon’ matched by the simple purity of ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ – you might not think you need another cover of the Keane track but it positively shimmers under the gorgeous treatment here. Continue reading “Album Review: Justine Balmer – Simple Thing”
A pair of dreamy album reviews with Matthew Croke’s Only Dreaming & Anna O’Byrne’s Dream
“Moonlight and love songs
Never out of date”
There’s only a few weeks left to catch Aladdin onstage in London so what better time to sample the debut album from Agrabah’s finest son. Matthew Croke’s Only Dreaming was released earlier this year and serves as an excellent showcase for his smoothly appealing voice. He’s a Disney leading man through and through and whether paying tribute to his current home in the sweetly lovely ‘Proud of Your Boy’, or urging us to ‘Go The Distance’ with Hercules, it’s hard to resist him.
The emphasis in this collection is mainly on classic musicals, so we get ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, ‘Something’s Coming’ from West Side Story (though I’m not the biggest fan of the arrangement used here) and a gorgeous ‘Beautiful City’ from Godspell. There’s a nod to more modern musical theatre too, in the form of powerful versions of ‘Fight the Dragons’ from Andrew Lippa’s Big Fish and ‘This Is Not Over Yet’ from Jason Robert Brown’s Parade. Top of the pops for me though is the stirring rendition of The Wiz’s ‘Home’ which more than justifies the whole album. Continue reading “Dreamy Album Reviews: Matthew Croke – Only Dreaming & Anna O’Byrne – Dream”
Classical-crossover artist Joanna Forest takes us through a day in the life of a child with her enchanting new album The Rhythm of Life
“Wave goodbye to cares of the day”
After becoming the first independent artist to go straight to Number 1 in the Official Classical Album Charts with a debut album The Rhythm of Life is classical-crossover soprano Joanna Forest’s follow-up record. And it takes the form of a concept album, taking us on a journey through the day in the life of a child, pulling together songs from a wide range of sources to remind us of how uplifting music can be, no matter our age.
As a theatre nerd, my eye was instantly drawn to the musical tracks and Sweet Charity’s ‘The Rhythm of Life’ is an unexpected success as it brims with irrepressible energy – a fascinating and urgent orchestral arrangement is bolstered with charismatic backing vocals and choirs and the whole production builds layer upon layer to become something really interesting and unlike any version you’d seen on a theatre stage. Continue reading “Album Review: Joanna Forest – The Rhythm of Life”
If you’re looking for a last minute Christmas gift, you could do a lot worse than buy a loved one a bit of Sheridan Smith’s irresistible Northern Soul.
“You bring the music and I’ll bring the songs and we’ll sing them”
The music industry being as it is, it is impressive that anyone can make a breakthrough impact with an album but Sheridan Smith managed just that last with with her debut record Sheridan – the second best selling UK female debut. That collection explored her theatrical background as much as her love of music but on her second album A Northern Soul, released last month, she presents nothing but original songs.
It’s a bold move but one that pays off handsomely with this confident and characterful suite of songs. From the bright and perky energy of the opening title track to the modern twist on the torch song that is ‘The One’ to the slinky purr of ‘Don’t Beg For Love’, there’s a soulful warmth that is hard to resist, recalling the likes of Dusty Springfield with its nostalgic sheen. But even with that, you never lose sight of Smith in the music, she puts herself first and foremost. Continue reading “Album Review: Sheridan Smith – A Northern Soul”
Building on the success of The Greatest Showman, Keala Settle releases her debut EP Chapter One
“When the night has been too lonely and the road has been too long”
One of the breakout stars of runaway success film The Greatest Showman was rightly Keala Settle. As bearded lady Lettie Lutz, her rendition of the anthemic ‘This Is Me’ provided a real standout moment and it was no surprise to see the song be nominated for an Academy Award and to win a Golden Globe.
But to Broadway nerds, she’s no newbie. A Tony nominee (for Hands on a Hardbody), she shone in the original cast of Waitress and so you can certainly say she has paid her dues. And now Settle is taking the opportunity to release music with the EP Chapter One, which features four self-penned original songs and a cover for good measure. Continue reading “Album Review: Keala Settle – Chapter One”
Natasha Barnes really impresses with debut album Real, a shining example of contemporary pop done well
“Leave me with some kind of proof it’s not a dream”
The world of musical theatre is no stranger to the talents of Natasha Barnes, her story is such a lesson who would ever underestimate an understudy. And as is often the case following such stage success, the announcement of a debut album was not too far behind. What might surprise you though is that Real is no skip through your usual musical theatre standards, it is a seriously impressive contemporary pop.
A mixture of original songs and covers that suggest a fascinatingly diverse record collection (Paramore to Motown group Porgy and the Monarchs to Northern Soul’s Towanda Barnes), the overall vibe emerges as something relaxed and retro – a chilled out Paloma Faith if you need a more direct comparison. You really feel her influence on lead single ‘Supermodel’, irresistible in its driving groove.
Continue reading “Album Review: Natasha Barnes – Real”
In all its variety, The Norm Lewis Christmas Album proves an eclectic but beguiling confection
“Man it doesn’t show signs of stoppin'”
I’m not sure who we apply to for these things but I really would like to see Norm Lewis return to the West End stage – I didn’t catch him in Les Mis but I did get the briefest taste of him at a Lance Horne concert so Santa if you’re listening… In the meantime, we have to make do with the many pleasures of The Norm Lewis Christmas Album.
And my are they plentiful. Lewis is certainly generous, offering up a Christmas stocking packed full with 18 tracks and as much variety as a family-sized bag of Revels. Produced by Lewis with Richard Jay-Alexander and Lewis and accompanied by MD Joseph Joubert, with band members George Farmer and Perry Cavari, it makes for an eclectic but beguiling confection. Continue reading “Album Review: The Norm Lewis Christmas Album”
Alfie Boe shines on As Time Goes By, his first solo record in four years featuring the music of the 30s and 40s
“Now you’re singin’ with a swing”
As Time Goes By is Alfie Boe’s tenth studio album and his first solo disc in four years, having hit a sweet spot with his recent collaborations with Michael Ball which saw them take home two Classic BRIT Awards this year. But he moves here to reclaim the solo spotlight with a record that celebrates the music of the 30s and 40s.
That it does remarkably well, as Boe reins in much of the booming power of his powerful tenor to allow colour and character into his vocal performance. And with Gordon Goodwin and his Big Phat Band providing sensational musical accompaniment throughout, this is a music lover’s tribute to an era which doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. Continue reading “Album Review: Alfie Boe – As Time Goes By”
Casting my eye over some recent musical theatre album releases: Audra McDonald’s live album Sing Happy, Louise Dearman’s latest collection For You, For Me and the long-awaited cast recording for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
There are few things as well-designed as Audra McDonald’s thrilling soprano to make you happy, so the title of her new album Sing Happy is apt indeed. Her first live album and her first backed by an orchestra (the New York Philharmonic). the gig was recorded just a few days ago on 1st May and no wonder they were so quick to turn it around.
Whether shimmering through Porgy and Bess‘ timeless ‘Summertime’, proudly getting her life in La Cage aux Folles’ ‘I Am What I Am’ or absolutely nailing She Loves Me’s ‘Vanilla Ice Cream’, McDonald’s velvety textured voice is always so exciting to listen to. And the drama of songs like ‘Never Will I Marry’ sound glorious with the richness of the orchestral backing (conducted by Andy Einhorn).
An affinity for Sondheim comes into play twice, a medley of ‘Children Will Listen’ with South Pacific’s ‘You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught’ and in a showstopping take on ‘Being Alive’, still manages to surprise with the heights to which she lifts the song. An unalloyed, absolute pleasure. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Audra McDonald – Sing Happy / Louise Dearman – For You, For Me / Everybody’s Talking About Jamie cast recording”
Something of an undersung talent in this country (all his top gigs have taken place in Paris, or Kilworth), Dan Burton is nevertheless leading man material, and his debut album Broadway Melodies is proof thereof. Short and sweet at ten concise tracks, Burton swoons and slides effortlessly through the Great American Songbook.
Highlights include the happiest of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’s, a most elegant sway through Camelot’s ‘If Ever I Would Leave You’, and a chirpy duet on ‘Well, Did You Evah?’ with Lee Mead, a palpable warmth of friendship apparent throughout. Also good is The Pajama Game‘s ‘Hey There’, perfectly crooned and symptomatic of the good feeling suffused through this record. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Dan Burton – Broadway Melodies / Patti LuPone – Don’t Monkey With Broadway / Kyle Riabko – Richard Rodgers Reimagined”