Album Review: Billy Porter – At The Corner of Broadway + Soul (2005)

“I woke up this morning on the wrong side of life”

I loved Billy Porter’s second album Billy’s Back On Broadway so I turned with interest to his first, released nearly a decade before in 2005. At The Corner of Broadway + Soul was recorded live at Joe’s Pub and sees Porter bring together his own R’n’B compositions with gospel songs and Broadway hits – both old and new in his own inimitable style. Porter has a massive voice and loves to sing big and it is a joy to hear him cut loose as he so often does here.

A snippet of Dreamgirls’ ‘And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going’ is fierce, Into the Woods’ ‘Last Midnight’ is just beyond, and there’s a healthy smattering (7 in fact) of his own songs which effectively mine a nu-soul vein – the dirty funk of ‘Hell or High Water’ probably emerging as my favourite. He’s not just a belter though. The Adam Guettel/Jason Robert Brown two-fer sees him rein in the power to glorious effect on both ‘Awaiting You’ from Myths and Hymns and ‘King of the World’ from Songs for a New World which shine in their subtlety. Continue reading “Album Review: Billy Porter – At The Corner of Broadway + Soul (2005)”

Album Review: Kelli O’Hara – Always (2011)

“Do you feel the kind of grace inside the breeze?”

Though my tastes are broad, I am an old-fashioned soul at heart and little fills me with as much joy as a classic soprano, characterising so much of what I love about musical theatre. One of Broadway’s finest is Kelli O’Hara, an actress so good that since her first Tony nomination for The Light In The Piazza in 2005, she has been so nominated for every role she has played since, culminating in a win last year with her sixth nomination for The King and I.

Her 2011 album Always reflects something of the choices made by her contemporary and fellow singer Audra McDonald in the way that it delves into the Great American Songbook with chapters both old and new. There’s several classics in there – Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Sondheim – from shows she has been in and others besides, but also a fair few new musical theatre writers too, reflecting the breadth of the career she has pursued. Continue reading “Album Review: Kelli O’Hara – Always (2011)”

Album Review: Audra McDonald – Build a Bridge (2006)

“Your arias cause a stir in my sad and lonely heart”

Ringing the changes with her fourth album, Build a Bridge saw Audra McDonald take a break from the classic musical theatre songbooks she’d been exploring on her last two albums to turn to an altogether more contemporary world of rock and pop. There’s still room for some of the new musical theatre that she has tirelessly championed her whole career, of course there is, and there’s something utterly beguiling about the effortlessly modern feel of this collection.

That’s not to say that the selections are today’s Top 40 hits – Neil Young sits beside John Mayer, Randy Newman by Nellie McKay after all – but that Doug Petty’s arrangements and production style, together with that peerless soprano marries the material together in a beautiful way, that ultimately just celebrates the joy of good song-writing. Through McDonald here, one can trace how the timeless melodies of Bacharach and Costello’s ‘God Give Me Strength’ progress naturally to the chamber-pop of Rufus Wainwright’s charismatic ‘Damned Ladies’. Continue reading “Album Review: Audra McDonald – Build a Bridge (2006)”

Album Review: Audra McDonald – Way Back to Paradise (1998)

“To whirl and to dance till the white day is done”

It’s easy to look back with hindsight on this kind of thing but it is remarkable to see what Audra McDonald did with her first solo album Way Back To Paradise. Eschewing the easy route of well-worn standards and crowd-pleasing hits, McDonald turned to her contemporaries, working with upcoming composer-lyricists in showcasing their little-known or unproduced work (in some cases , writing specifically for her) that was very much at the vanguard of new musical theatre writing.

And she chose wisely, for among that company are the likes of Jason Robert Brown, Michael John LaChiusa and Adam Guettel. And thus the tracklisting respectively features gems like ‘You Don’t Know This Man’ from Parade, now surely acknowledged as a modern classic but at this point yet to open on Broadway, the striking ‘Mistress of a Senator’ from Hello Again, and ‘Come To Jesus’ from Saturn Returns, on which Guettel appears too. Continue reading “Album Review: Audra McDonald – Way Back to Paradise (1998)”