Album Review: Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs – Live at the Cafe Carlyle (2015)

“How could I behave as if we’d never met?”

 Recorded just after he completed his 2014/5 return to Cabaret at Studio 54, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs – Live at the Cafe Carlyle is one of the best cabaret records I’ve had the pleasure of listening to. Surprising but superb song selection, threaded through with a real sense of personality and personal revelation, draws the listener in right from the off, even if he storms just a fraction too quickly through Annie Lennox’s glorious solo hit ‘Why’, he next invests Keane’s ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ with a genuinely rueful quality that hints at what is to come.

And if the label ‘sappy’ might suggest something inconsequential, make no mistake that this is deeply emotional work. From Miley Cyrus’ ‘The Climb’ to the plangent ‘Complainte de la Butte’, to showier material that Cumming more obviously has an affinity with, like Kurt Weill’s ‘How Do Humans Live’ and the utterly gorgeous ‘You You You’ from Kander and Ebb’s The Visit, to the almost unbearable emotion underpinning the likes of Billy Joel’s ‘Goodnight Saigon’ and Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Dinner at Eight’. Continue reading “Album Review: Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs – Live at the Cafe Carlyle (2015)”

CD Review: Julie Atherton – No Space for Air

“If I opened my heart, there’d be no space for air”

Given that, as regular readers will know, I tend to think of Julie Atherton as something close to the Second Coming, I was a little trepidatious at the prospect of her new CD No Space for Air when it was first announced as an album embracing her rockier side and moving away from the musical theatre repertoire she is best known for. I almost cracked when I heard there was a Linkin Park song on there as I have never knowingly listened to one of their songs in my life! But I stuck with it, trusted in Julie, and was rewarded with a great listen.

For if there is a rock chick inside Atherton, it is a fairly mellow one. The aforementioned Linkin Park song ‘Crawling’ is a gorgeous string-laden number with gently strummed guitars a little at odds with the angst-ridden lyrics: a very pleasant surprise but I’m happy without ever having to listen to the original. Likewise, Skunk Anansie’s ‘Weak’ is stripped back to an almost acoustic rendition, piano-led this time but equally raw lyrically, showing a different side but still feeling authentic. Including Tori Amos’ quirky ‘Leather’ is a nice touch, allowing a little vocal playfulness, but a rendition of Shawn Colvin’s ‘Never Saw Blue Like That’ is probably the best thing on the album. Performed with such subtle restraint with a simple guitar accompaniment, it is just captivating. Continue reading “CD Review: Julie Atherton – No Space for Air”

Music Review: Lance Horne – First Things Last

“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.

Continue reading “Music Review: Lance Horne – First Things Last”

Music Review: Alan Cumming – I Bought A Blue Car Today

“You have to understand the way I am, mein herr”

Supported by a series of shows on both sides of the Atlantic, Alan Cumming’s I Bought A Blue Car Today documents his last 10 years of slowly becoming an American citizen whilst never really losing the impish Scottish charm for which he is so well known from appearances in film, tv and onstage. Under the musical direction of Lance Horne, he rips through a huge range of songwriters and styles whilst showing off a new facet to his ‘many talents and one which pleases for the most part.

He slips between the world of popular music and musical theatre with an impressive ease: a rousing rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Shine’ is matched by the stirring take on ‘Where I Want To Be’ from Chess; and who else could trace a journey from Dory Previn’s ‘Dance and Dance and Smile and Smile’ to a Mika song via Victoria Wood’s ‘Thinking of You’. But the highlight is probably a sleazily sensual riff on ‘Mein Herr’ from Cabaret that is downright filthy but huge amounts of fun. Continue reading “Music Review: Alan Cumming – I Bought A Blue Car Today”

Review: Lance Horne – First Things Last, Garrick

“What matters are the things you leave behind
And the echoes love can leave inside your mind
And the lights that last from random acts of kindness
Kind of simple, kind of not”

First Things Last celebrated the release of American musical theatre writer Lance Horne’s debut album at the Garrick Theatre, following two shows in New York earlier this month. The album features a host of highly talented stars from the West End and Broadway, so the concerts have had different line-ups reflecting people’s availability but this concert featured a line-up that read like a who’s who of the cream of British musical theatre and then some. The show was produced by those champions of new musical theatre Speckulation and lived up to expectations as a most stunning showcase for some seriously talented stars and a most engaging writer.

Picking a favourite moment from the event is a bit like my own version of Sophie’s Choice, but I was probably most looking forward to Meow Meow’s performance and she did not fail to deliver. Her song ‘January’, a regretful tale of a lost love, is like a 1960s black and white French film brought fully to life, her silkily sultry vocals perfectly matching the Jacques Brel feel of the song and I now could not be more excited for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg if I tried, it is going to be immense! Continue reading “Review: Lance Horne – First Things Last, Garrick”