New Music

Ten months into my New Year resolution to listen to more new and varied types of music and I have to admit that for October, I have cheated a bit – the music I’ve chosen this month is not new to me.  However, she’s been out of the limelight for a while and delightfully, I discovered a new EP from her when I researched this piece.

Emilia Mitiku first came to the attention of Alfie Boe fans, myself included, when she supported Alfie on his Storyteller tour in March / April 2013. She was heavily pregnant at the time and this gave way to an unexpectedly hilarious moment when Alfie introduced her, before their duet on Dimming of the Day.  Emilia also duetted with Alfie on Angel from Montgomery on that tour.

This version of Dimming of the Day is my favourite and is often chosen as one of fans’ six sensational songs.  I’m still not sure how I managed to leave it out of mine!

Emilia has released several albums but the one I’m concentrating on, and is probably most familiar to Alfie fans is 2012’s I Belong To You, a collection of what Emilia calls vintage pop.  A mixture of pop, overlaid with jazz and country sounds, the album showcases Emilia’s rich, velvety voice in a number of styles, all of which reflect the jazz, pop and traditional Ethiopian music she grew up with. The first song I ever heard from Emilia reminded me of Dolly Parton:

The subject matter of heartbreak and the country lilt of the music show Emilia’s mastery of styles, especially when compared to the upbeat, sparkling So Wonderful:

One song from this time that didn’t appear on I Belong To You, is Why Is He So Mean?

This was a highlight of Emilia’s live performances in 2013 and quickly became a favourite with the mostly female Alfie Boe audience, as only catchy, rhythmic songs about women surviving relationships can!  It’s impossible to sit still and listen to this – before you know it you’re up and dancing, whilst also singing at the top of your voice.

As I mentioned earlier, I was overjoyed to find new music from Emilia when researching this piece.  Blue, Blue, Blue, a four track EP was released in late 2017 and is pure, vintage Emilia Mitiku, stylistically similar to I Belong To You. Opening with a slow, silky cover of Rihanna’s We Found Love, the EP gets into it’s stride with the title track:

Upbeat, with a catchy hook, this is another song you’ll be quickly singing and dancing along to.  “Blue, blue, blue, that’s what I learnt from you” appears to take up where I Belong To You left off and is all the more welcome for it.  I would be happy if Emilia made this sort of music forever.

When Our Roads Cross and Forgetful Lover hark back to another era of music, reminiscent of Alfie’s forthcoming album, As Time Goes By – I would love to hear Alfie’s voice sing some of Emilia’s songs.  This record is so smooth and silky, it was over far too quickly; I hope 2019 sees more new music from Emilia Mitiku.

Blue, Blue, Blue is available here:

I have one copy of Emilia’s album, I Belong To You, to give away, just answer this question:

Which two songs did Emilia sing with Alfie Boe on his 2013 Storyteller tour?

Competition will close at Midnight on 7 November 2018 – good luck!

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Thoughtsofjustafan favourite John Owen-Jones has been recording his fifth album this year, to be released in 2019 and this is the first release from Spotlight:

From Beauty and the Beast, Evermore is perfectly suited to John’s beautiful voice, the soaring vocals are just sublime and really give the listener a taste of what’s to come with the album.  Alfie Boe fans will of course know that Alfie recorded Evermore as a bonus track on Together Again (with Michael Ball) and listening to the two versions one after the other, I found myself wishing for a recorded duet from Alfie and John.  After all, the impromptu duet of Bring Him Home at the Royal Albert Hall five years ago was absolutely sensational!

Spotlight will feature John’s unique take on tracks from musicals and more, with music performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of John’s long time musical collaborator, John Quirk. Fans can be part of being involved more in the recording of this album via a crowdfunding campaign on John’s Pledge Music web page.

Evermore is available here:

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Opera superstar Sir Bryn Terfel is releasing his first album for five years in September and I’m thrilled that Alfie Boe will be a guest!  Titled Dreams and Songs, the album is a collection of songs that Bryn loves.

Recorded at London’s Abbey Road studios, the album also features soprano Danielle de Niese on Amazing Grace, tenor Joseph Calleja on Granada and Katherine Jenkins on Tell My Father.  In addition, Dame Emma Thompson and Ron Brydon join Bryn on Do You Love Me from Fiddler on the Roof and The Golfer’s Lament, respectively.  There is also a world premiere recording of The Shepherd Poet Of Passchendaele, written especially for Bryn by Penclawdd-born Sir Karl Jenkins, the most performed living composer. The song is inspired by the story of Welsh poet Hedd Wyn, who died on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele (the Third Battle of Ypres), with poignant lyrics written by Sir Karl’s wife – Lady Jenkins, Carol Barratt.

Alfie will duet with Bryn on John Denver’s Perhaps Love, recorded with Placido Domingo in 1981 – this will be tremendous with Alfie and Bryn’s voices.  Of course, Alfie and Bryn have known each other for a long time; Bryn appeared at the Royal Opera House whilst Alfie was a student in the Vilar Programme – click here (from 4.19) to see footage of the two of them together.  However, since then, the pair have performed together, most notably at the South Bank Awards, singing the Pearl Fishers duet.  This performance was the winner in an early thoughtsofjustafan poll to find your favourite Alfie Boe duet – duets have taken on a whole new meaning for Alfie since then!

Acclaimed worldwide for tackling the biggest opera roles, Sir Bryn’s new album – his first in five years – shows his lighter side with a collection of his most loved songs, recorded in brand new orchestral versions. He says, “This is some of my favourite concert repertoire. Songs and duets, some humorous encores that I just adore to sing. And how lucky I am to share the album with some incredible artists, and to record at the amazing, iconic Abbey Road.”

Alongside the release of Dreams and Songs, Sir Bryn Terfel continues to give major performances around the world. Following his title role in Falstaff at London’s Royal Opera House, he will be reprising his title role as Sweeney Todd at Zürich Opera in December. He will also sing with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall on 5th October for a special concert which includes music by Verdi, Wagner, Mozart and more.

Dreams and Songs can be pre-ordered here:

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Into August and the countdown to the 2018 Blackpool Illumination Switch On is under way – anyone going to see Alfie switch on?

In the meantime, let’s take a look at Janice Stark’s song selection.  Janice first saw Alfie on the Royal Variety Show 2010), bought the 25th Anniversary DVD has bought all his CD’s and DVD’s ever since. Janice says “I think I really prefer his opera renditions but the more modern songs have grown on me so tried to get a mix in my choice of six!”

Danny Boy, from Trust.

Dimming of the Day, Trust.

The Floral Dance at Children In Need Rocks for Sir Terry.

If I Can Dream, Storyteller.

Patiently Smiling, Love Was A Dream.

The Pearl Fishers Duet, with Bryn Terfel – Janice chose this or Nessun Dorma as her sixth song, so I chose this as it hasn’t been chosen before.

Another three new tracks have been added to our list – at this rate, we’ll eventually have every single song from Alfie!

If you would like to see your choices featured, please fill in the form:

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One of my favourite musicians to write about and listen to in the last couple of years has been the New York based singer, songwriter and visual artist Rachael Sage.  I love songs that tell a story as well as being beautiful to listen to and Rachael’s songs deliver that in spades.  So, it was with delight that I learned that Rachael’s thirteenth album will be released in the Autumn.  Before that, however, we get a glimpse into the flavour of that album, Myopia, with a single released on 6 July.

Spark is the story about the intimacy of a shared experience with a total stranger: ‘I don’t know your secrets, but I feel you like a spark’, sings Rachael in her velvety tone. It is about the magical moment when a relationship is in its infancy, before anything can go wrong and you can just revel in the lack of familiarity. It is a beautiful depiction of an experience of excitement and exhilaration that is universally felt.

The track starts with a brief piano hook before Rachael’s voice joins the mix, with vocals as delicate as they are powerful. The track is then taken up a notch with the inclusion of a dynamic and vibrant string section, and a subtle but robust drum beat that gives the track a real pulse.

Click here to download Spark.

Listening to Spark, I was so excited that I couldn’t wait to write about it and I’m even more excited for Myopia, later this year – of course I’ll be bringing that to you too.

If you love Rachael’s music then I have two of her previous albums to give away – Blue Roses and Haunted By You.  To win, just answer this question in the form below:

How many albums has Rachael Sage released so far?*

Good luck!

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For fans of musical theatre, the name Dave Willetts is synonymous with the West End.  Over a career spanning more than thirty years, Willetts has appeared in many shows, including the lead in Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera.  He continues to perform in musicals around the UK and as befits an actor who was part of the original Les Mis production at the Barbican (understudy to Colm Wilkinson), Willetts more often than not, chooses to work with new musical projects.

Alongside this illustrious stage career, Willetts has also enjoyed success with a number of albums.  One such offering is Timeless, an album first recorded a while ago but only now finding it’s way into the mainstream, which for fans of rich, tenor voices and musical theatre alike, is nothing short of miraculous.  After all, we don’t often get the chance to hear new material from such a seasoned actor and singer.

I described Willetts as an actor and singer in that order as it happens to be the way he described himself when I interviewed him back in 2015 when we talked about Dave Willetts as Jean Valjean.  For him, this is the crucial distinction when performing in a musical.  It is somewhat of a surprise then to find that his back story has more in common with Alfie Boe than Michael Ball. Like Alfie, Willetts has a non performance background, working in engineering as a day job and relaxing through the medium of amateur productions. While performing in Charlie and Algernon at the Priory Theatre in the Midlands, Willetts was spotted by the art director of the Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre and after a successful audition, became a professional actor, with a first role in the chorus of Annie. Twelve months later he was in the West End with Les Mis and the rest, as they say, is history.

Timeless is a collection of songs that are exactly that; timeless.  Encompassing popular standards and songs from musical theatre, the album feels full of choices personal to Willetts and needless to say, they show off his vocal range and versatility to perfection.  This is a singer who through his vast acting experience, is able to convey warmth, tenderness, fun, pathos whilst also projecting enormous vocal power.

My favourite tracks are those from musical theatre, particularly I Dreamed You and This Is The Moment, from Tony Rees and Gary Young’s Jekyll and the Broadway production Jekyll and Hyde, respectively.  Willetts has worked with both shows and when I spoke to him in 2015, he was involved in writing the book for a further musical based on the Jekyll and Hyde story, The Man Inside, which has since had it’s premiere, Willetts of course taking the lead.

The majority of the other tracks are not from musicals and are such an eclectic mix that you have no option but to believe that these are personal choices.  Fun is the word that springs to mind when listening to You Took The Words Right Out and San Francisco Bay Blues – they would be great to listen to live.  Tears in Heaven and Smile allow Willetts to show his tender side while Bridge Over Troubled Water lets that rich tenor soar.  Leaving all this aside, the song I’ve taken away from this album is a duet, with Lara J West, on I Swear, a massive 1990’s hit for All4One.  As soon as you hear it, you’ll know it, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll love it.

Timeless is released on 2 February and is available for pre-order:

If you can’t wait that long, I have a copy to give away!  Just answer the following question – competition closes at Midnight on Sunday 21 January.

Which West End show did Dave Willetts star in after Les Mis?

This competition is now closed.

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I have a confession to make – I truly love Christmas songs and Christmas albums so it was with total joy that I heard Rachael Sage had released a holidays EP, aptly named Joy. It’s a holidays album because it also encompasses Hanukkah, also being celebrated at the moment.

It’s a tricky thing to bring something new to Christmas music but that is exactly what Sage does with her cover of the classic Joy To The World.  Weaving together her proven sounds of folk, pop, and jazz,  Sage brings new life to such a joyful song; indeed, my overwhelming emotion when listening (and I can’t stop listening) is joy.  Sage’s vocals are crystal clear and she certainly knows how to arrange a song to suit.

Tchatchkes and Latkes is one of Sage’s own songs and is lively and tongue in cheek, originally being written for Rachael’s Joe’s Pub shows. It’s pure, unadulterated fun, definitely passing the ‘have to get up and dance’ test.  The second Hanukkah song, Hanukkah in the Village, a favourite with Rachael’s many fans is also beautiful:

 

Wonderfully evocative, the song takes you all around New York City in three minutes and makes you feel like you’re actually experiencing the holiday season there.  If I didn’t want to visit New York at this time of year before, I do now!

The most interesting track on the EP is the Yiddish ballad, and Rachael’s first Yiddish recording, Umru Meine, which debuted earlier this year at Skirball Center For The Performing Arts, where she sang it alongside Tovah Feldshuh, David Hyde Pierce and other Broadway performers as part of a National Yiddish Theatre gala event.  This is a cover but again, with Sage’s own arrangement suited to her style and you can feel Sage really connecting to the language.

Joy is available to download here:

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Monday 13 November sees new musical Tiger Bay, open in Cardiff at the Wales Millennium Centre.  Set in the early 1900’s, the show tells the story of poverty and wealth in Cardiff’s Butetown through one young woman, played by Vicky Bebb.  Welsh musical star John Owen-Jones plays John Stuart, Third Marquess of Bute in a role written for him.

When I spoke to him earlier this year around the release of his compilation album, Bring Him Home, John said that to have a part written for him was “a long held dream”.  With Tiger Bay, John also had the opportunity to be involved in a new musical right from the beginning as the show initially premiered in Cape Town in March / April this year.  This  experience was different to other shows that John’s been it was “more like a long workshop with rewrites and changes” as opposed to slotting into a long running show.

One such long running show was Les Miserables, where he most recently took over from Alfie Boe on Broadway.  John enjoys a good relationship with Alfie and joked about Alfie and Ramin Karimloo (Jean Valjean before Alfie) that “they did what I originally did and then I went and showed them how it was supposed to be done.”  Click here for our Les Miz Broadway reviews to see if you agree!

Whilst on the topic of Alfie (John knowing Alfie and me writing this blog, talking about Alfie was inevitable) we talked about the infamous night at the Royal Albert Hall when Alfie pulled John up onto the stage to sing Bring Him Home.  Of that night, John said “I wished I hadn’t had two pints of lager but it was absolutely unplanned and terrifying but perhaps the beer was helpful.  I couldn’t believe Alfie had the balls to do that.”  That was my very first Alfie concert and because of that magical moment, one of the most memorable:

John, of course, also starred in another iconic long running show, Phantom of the Opera as well as a recent short revival of The Wild Party.  When asked, John’s dream roles include Sweeney Todd, George in the Park, Man of La Mancha, Into the Woods and Company.

Tiger Bay opens on 13 November – click here for tickets.

John’s latest album, Bring Him Home is available here:

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In times as turbulent and uncertain as those we currently live in, it seems to me that the music we listen to would go one of two ways: escapist or reflecting what’s happening around us. But, what if there was a third way? Music that reflects uncertainty while also sounding hopeful for the future of our world? In Stargazer, the new album from US musician, Jesse Terry I think we’ve found this.

I once read that during a recession, sales of red lipstick go up as we try to keep our spirits up during doom and gloom, a story that appeals to me as a fervent lover of red lipstick as pick you up, whether or not there’s any truth in it. As an escape from reality it’s pretty sure fire, albeit on a short term basis. Another escape route from reality is music, both songs that you’ve loved forever and new music that takes you to a far off, magical place. I have a pretty extensive music collection but I’m always looking for more to add and I recently came across a US artist named Jesse Terry whose new album, Stargazer really lifted me with its upbeat tone of hope and thought provoking lyrics that lead you to think about the bigger picture.  When I spoke to Terry, I asked him if was a happy person and he said that “most people see me as a happy guy…I’m happiest when making music and that’s when most people do see me.  In Stargazer, we talk about choosing your own universe and it’s the journey that’s lots of fun, it’s good to still be on that journey”.  The title track is filled with hope, compassion and empathy, demonstrated by the lines “I know how much it hurts, you’re free now to choose your universe, I know your time’s coming soon”.

Stargazer as a whole uses a lot of strings which make an emotional impact and have been thoughtfully arranged as part of the song, rather than added as an afterthought. They work so well that I would like to hear several songs as classical works as well as acoustically, particularly Woken the Wildflowers.  Terry and I bonded over the sometimes overuse of ‘extraneous strings’, my own phrase!, where it really doesn’t suit the music but in this case, Terry says that he was aided by a great arranger, Danny Mitchell and the songs were written with the strings in mind.  “Think Abbey Road without George Martin’s string arrangements” is how Terry put it.

The Abbey Road connection is apt as Terry cites The Beatles as his most overriding musical influence (he talks about them with reverence and awe in his voice) along with Jeff Lynne, Brian Wilson, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and The Travelling Wilburys.  All of these can be heard on Stargazer but as well as The Beatles, I felt that Paul McCartney’s later solo work made it’s presence felt with Terry even sounding like McCartney at times.  Listening to the rest of the album, Dangerous Times struck me as a flowing melody with lyrics that really make you think about the world around us and our place within it whereas Only A Pawn had the same effect but with a stand out intro and use of pizzicato strings.  Dance In Our Old Shoes and Runaway Town pass the had to get up and dance test parts and to me sound positively Springsteenish.

Stargazer is available here:

Jesse Terry is touring the UK in October – click here for info.

What do Simon and Garfunkel have in common with En Vogue, the all female group from the early 1990’s?  Well, they were two of the artists cited as musical influences by British female duo The Sound of the Sirens when I interviewed them recently.  At first glance, it’s difficult to see the similarity between En Vogue and Exeter based Sirens, aka Abbe and Hannah, whose sound is more acoustic pop than R&B, but it’s the harmonies that inspire, along with Destiny’s Child and the aforementioned Simon and Garfunkel.

It seems that Abbe and Hannah’s musical influences are multi layered and eclectic; song writing inspirations are Oasis, Mumford and Sons, Nirvana and Coldplay amongst others. Listening to the Sirens debut album, For All Our Sins, these song writing influences are immediately apparent: the influence of Mumford and Sons is easily detected and Abbe and Hannah cite them as their major influence.  The writing process takes place both together and alone and is aided by lots of dog walking!  Abbe and Hannah each have a dog (Maggie and Taio) and like to listen to songs recorded on their phones whilst out walking – sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

For All Our Sins is an album that delivers upbeat, sweet melodies that beguile you, whilst at the same time, sharp lyrics speak to us of strong emotions, the sadness that life can bring and finding strength and positivity to get through.  Abbe and Hannah hope that by doing this, they can “help others to deal with the same issues”.   Chaos and Together Alone are my favourite tracks, along with their first single, Smokescreen:

It’s when listening to the lyrics and the overall sound that you hear the influence of all the other female singers and songwriters that have gone before.  The likes of Pink, Alanis Morrissette, Laura Marling and even Gloria Estefan further influenced the Sirens.  Going back to En Vogue and Destiny’s Child, it’s easy to see that it’s not only the harmonies that inspire, but also the women themselves – after all, there are still relatively few all female groups making music successfully.

As with all independent musicians, I was interested to find out why Abbe and Hannah chose to go the indie route and it turns out that Sirens are a perfect match with DMF Records as they are both Exeter based and both Abbe and Hannah said that working with them was “just like family.  We can pop in for a cuppa and chat, it’s great”.   As for the future, the Sirens will continue to frequently play live and hope to record another album in the next year or so – they already have some new material written.

Lastly, the title of this piece is Sins of Sound of the Sirens and you might ask what sins?  I concur, Abbe and Hannah are far too lovely to have many sins.  The title of the album comes from the lyrics of Cross Our Hearts and was chosen by the duo’s brothers – and they like it as “it can mean anything”!

For All Our Sins is available here:

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