Album Review: Scott Alan – Anything Worth Holding On To

“When you feel like you just slept through all the best years of your life”

This 8 track EP may seem like slim pickings at first glance – a handful of these songs appeared on Scott Alan’s last album What I Wanna Be When I Grow Up and one is an instrumental of a song already on there. But further examination shows us what is actually happening here, this is the first time that Alan has released a collection that features only himself, rather than the multi-talented cast that he is able to call on to sing his ever-growing songbook. And for that instrumental, the aching tunefulness of the title track of Anything Worth Holding On To makes it more than worthy of the focus.

The focus here is intimately personal. The collection of songs traces the writer’s struggles with depression and faces up honestly to the difficulties of being a composer of new musical theatre in a world that too easily defers to the familiar. The solo voice of Alan thus serves a dual purpose – it simplifies matters, and costs, for a new record, but it also provides a stunning connection with the material that hasn’t always been present before, a real sense that these are genuine emotions lying behind the work, lived in in the most intimate of ways.  Continue reading “Album Review: Scott Alan – Anything Worth Holding On To”

Album Review: Keys – The Music of Scott Alan

“You can hear the birds migrating
Through the sky lit autumn dawn”

Keys – The Music of Scott Alan is the second album of this American composer’s work, the first Dreaming Wide Awake becoming a fast favourite and so I was quite keen to start working my way through his other CDs. This album, which was produced by composer Alan, features orchestrations and arrangements penned by James Abbott, Barbara Anselmi, Sam Davis, Tom Kitt and Jesse Vargas which are heavy on piano and strings which instantly scores brownie points for me as it makes the album sound so much classier from the off and suggests that a timelessness that can never be achieved with an overly synthesised approach.
 
The calibre of performer Alan can attract is really quite seriously impressive especially considering there’s no real hit show to his name yet, but this is just testament to the quality of the song-writing. One assumes these songs are being written for shows but I suspect part of the reason for his appeal is that they stand alone so very well and so make ideal inclusions for cabarets. Whether it is veterans like Norm Lewis, purring silkily through ‘How Did I End Up Here’ and Sutton Foster’s gorgeously restrained ‘Always’, or the comparative young guns of Caissie Levy with her driving ballad ‘Please Don’t Let Me Go’ and Hadley Fraser’s impassioned ‘Again’, there’s a great sense of natural ease about this recording.

Continue reading “Album Review: Keys – The Music of Scott Alan”

Album Review: Annalene Beechey – Close Your Eyes

“What do you see, you people gazing at me, you see a doll on a music box”

Annalene Beechey is one of those performers whom I have seen a fair bit but never actually on the stage in a show, instead she has been a regular on the cabaret scene, supporting fellow ‘Christine’ Rebecca Caine or showcasing new musical theatre writing in theatres and on boats. So I thought I’d give her album Close Your Eyes a spin to see how it stacked up and it came up good!

What works so well for me is her song selection, she steers clear from too much rehashing of familiar standards and instead chooses to highlight the work of the composers with whom she has built up a connection whether personally or just through their music and it shows. From the newbies like Grant Olding – the gorgeous ‘Hannah’s Dream’ and Scott Alan – the fragile beauty of ‘Always/Goodnight’ to the more seasoned hands of Stephens Sondheim and Schwartz –an Into the Woods medley and ‘Lion Tamer’ from The Magic Show respectively, Beechey’s love of the genre shines through with insightful interpretations that dig deep into these songs and what they mean to her. Continue reading “Album Review: Annalene Beechey – Close Your Eyes”

Album Review: Scott Alan – Dreaming Wide Awake

“I have fought, I have cried.
I’ve been broke, I’ve been bruised.
Yet at the end of the day
This life is what I still choose.”

I was recommended this Scott Alan CD, Dreaming Wide Awake, by a reader who like me wasn’t a huge fan of Tim Prottey-Jones’ album which I reviewed last week and claimed that US composers were basically better all round. Whereas that sentiment made me automatically want to not bother, I do love a good recommendation and Scott Alan is one of those composers of whom I’ve heard a fair bit without having actually engaged with his music or any of his shows. Alan is a lyricist and composer who has written a handful of shows but more recently, his output seems to have been channelled into collections of his work on CD: he is now up to his third, of which Dreaming Wide Awake is the first.

I’m not going to get sucked into a US/UK debate here, there’s room in my heart to like all sorts of different things for different occasions, but I do have to say that this is an album which pretty much blew me away from first listen. Opening with the punchily brilliant ‘I’m A Star’ by Eden Espinosa, it is clear that Alan is unafraid of showing emotion in all its colours through his writing. I’m A Star is the kind of song to get pulses racing with its determined dreams of success and one I’m surprised I haven’t heard in a cabaret set (yet). Tracie Thoms’ ‘Let Love Begin’ has a driving tunefulness and there’s a great comic number in the countering viewpoints of ‘At Seventeen’. Continue reading “Album Review: Scott Alan – Dreaming Wide Awake”

Album Review: Stuart Matthew Price – All Things In Time

“Am I wishing for too much?”

Stuart Matthew Price, currently to be found in the ensemble of Shrek The Musical, has long carried the (potentially) dubious honour of being named one of the brightest upcoming stars of British musical theatre since wowing people in Parade at the Donmar Warehouse in 2007 and since then has been quietly carving out an interesting career, more often than not choosing to highlight lesser-known musical theatre writing. And so too does he do here on his debut album, All Things in Time featuring a selection of the cream of new musical theatre writing, including himself as he is a composer as well as performer.

Dougal Irvine’s beautifully relaxed ‘The Touch of Love’ was a surprising highlight for me: I’d usually plump for piano arrangements every time but Irvine’s light touch (ba-dum) works wonders here to make this a great track. And followed by Laurence Mark Wythe’s Goodnight Kiss, the album really does come off as a fabulous showcase for interesting writing: both of these songs standing up excellently individually, but also suggesting interesting musicals that might accompany them. Likewise, Stiles & Drewe’s ‘Wishing For The Normal’, a characterful duet with Caissie Levy, and Grant Olding’s ‘Midnight Will Happen Without Us’ are other great signs of the health of new British musical writing. Continue reading “Album Review: Stuart Matthew Price – All Things In Time”

Music Review: John Barr – All I Am

“Maybe I’m brainless, maybe I’m wise”

Having reviewed In Whatever Time We Have last month, I was given a copy of All I Am, one of John Barr’s later albums, his 5th in total, to have a listen to in my quest to broaden the musical theatre CD collection on my iTunes. Barr is a musical theatre and cabaret veteran now so consequently there’s a hugely diverse range of material on show here: musical theatre and cabaret standards rub shoulders with pop songs, soulful ballads, even a self-penned number. Each song also has its own dedication, testifying to just how personal this song collection is. And it is a largely restrained affair, lots of lovely piano arrangements and Barr’s rich voice showcased at its best, the simplicity of songs old and new suiting him down to the ground whether it’s Robin McKelle’s ‘Remember’, ‘Absent Minded Me’, a song cut from ‘Funny Girl’ or the guitar-led ‘Earthbound’ written by Conner Reeves.

Highlights for me were two of the four duets on here: Scott Alan’s ‘The Journey’ is sung softly and just beautifully with Alison Jiear who also provides backing vocals on several other songs too, there’s a gorgeous subtlety here that re-emerges though in a completely different way on a re-arranged ‘As Time Go By’ with David McAlmont that swings by with a fresh energy. But Barr is such a strong balladeer too that he soars on numbers like the title track and ‘Heaven Holds The Ones I Love’ that could prove mawkish but are sung here with such heartfelt sincerity. Continue reading “Music Review: John Barr – All I Am”