album review

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Two days until the release date of Alfie Boe’s new album,  As Time Goes By and it’s not a spoiler for this piece when I start by saying that it’s worth waiting four years for a solo album – it’s glorious.  The music of the 1920’s and 1930’s suits Alfie’s voice so snugly that you feel as if he’s always been singing this music.  These songs give the warmth in Alfie’s voice time to shine and the switch between big band sounds and the more intimate feel of the slower tempo songs showcase his extraordinarily wide repertoire.  The musicianship at work on this album is wonderful; it will be interesting to hear the differences on this and the live approach on Alfie’s tour next year.

As Time Goes By is a balance of smooth, classy, slower tempo tracks and some big band, upbeat tracks and they’ve got that balance absolutely right.  You’re eased in with La Vie En Rose and Moonlight Serenade before Sing Sing Sing launches into a song that has you up and out of your seat and dancing around.  In some of the many promotional interviews Alfie has recently done, he’s described wanting to “get down and dirty” with some of these tracks and for me, that is best embodied with Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Minnie the Moocher.  Both have an almost gravelly feel to them and whilst Alfie’s voice could in no way be described as gravelly, the arrangements are so good that gravelly is what I hear.  Following on from Ain’t Misbehavin‘, Mood Indigo also has a bit of a down and dirty feel about it but the big band accompaniment juxtaposes exquisitely to give it a sound all of it’s own.  These two songs are the stand outs for me.

Prior to listening to this album in full, my favourite track was The Way You Look Tonight, probably helped along by a smouldering performance on Britain’s Got Talent earlier this year!

Of the slower tempo songs, it’s still my favourite, although there isn’t a song out of place on the whole album.  These songs have such an intimate feel that you truly understand why the title of Alfie’s UK tour in 2019 is An Evening with Alfie Boe; they lend themselves to the kind of intimate feel a few lucky fans saw in the Isle of Man.  It remains to be seen whether the format stays the same – hope so!

There are three duets on this album and all three are delightful.  Alfie and Kelsey Grammer are clearly having a ball on Minnie the Moocher, you can hear the smiles and laughter in the singing.  Kara Tointon and Brennyn Lark on, respectively, Stompin’ at the Savoy and A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square are featured on songs that suit their voices wonderfully.  Of the two, I prefer Stompin’ but it’s a close run thing.   It would be fantastic to see either of these lovely singers guest with Alfie at one or other of his shows next year.

Overall, this is a wonderful album – there is not one song that shouldn’t be there and I loved all of them.  You might think that you don’t need another big band / swing / jazz album in your life but you’d be wrong.  As Time Goes By is a must have album, not just for Alfie fans but for everyone who likes good music.  It’s definitely up there with Alfie’s best albums.

As Time Goes By is available here:

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In the early summer of this year, I brought you Rachael Sage’s new single, Spark, ahead of the UK release of her thirteenth album, Myopia.  Happily, that album is now being released and I’ve been lucky enough to listen.  Rachael is one of my favourite artists to review as her songs tell stories, sometimes about dark subjects although you might not realise it at first, such is the juxtaposition of the lyrics and the lilting melodies and vocals that are Rachael’s signatures.

The sound of Myopia is a bit of a departure for Rachael, leaning as it does on guitars and strings rather than the more well known piano based songs.  I have to say that it works, Rachael’s song writing style and vocals being easily adapted to all forms of instrumentation.  The guitars lend a softness to the vocals and give the listener a new discovery about Rachael.  It will be interesting to see if this remains a one off or if we will see more guitars on the next album – and I’m sure there will be a next album, given how prolific Rachael’s output to now has been.

The title track is a new kind of anthem for Rachael, who sings passionately about a “screen of judge-
ment / in my face all the time” being lifted. It’s a declaration of self-assurance and vision that perhaps could only be made as disarmingly in the middle of a cultural crisis. Rachael’s own myopia started her thinking about nearsightedness on a much more macro level.   It’s all about perspective; the lens you might be looking through might be totally different to the lens of the person next to you.

The clarity that comes from being comfortable in one’s own skin is a theme that runs through much of the album with Maybe She’ll Have Cats being a stand out for me (“maybe she’ll have children, maybe she’ll have cats” endeared this song to me, having both a child and cats).  The song describes the difficulty of being comfortable in your own skin and also wanting that for your own children perfectly. It also has a great instrumental mid section.

Another stand out track is Olivia which sounds like a love song to Olivia, and my first thought on listening was that Olivia is a lucky woman to have this song written about her.  It turns out that the Olivia in question is Detective Olivia Benson, portrayed by Mariska Hargitay in the TV show Law and Order SVU.

Rachael says that  “I am a bit obsessed with that show, not only because the acting is superb but because it really juxtaposes the creepiest, most disturbed individuals in society against this incredibly fierce, resourceful and empathetic woman who does a hell of a
lot of saving and is basically the closest thing to Wonder Woman on TV.” Olivia Benson engenders the same kind of response in me – not just for the character but for the fact that she is the lead role in a traditionally male dominated TV genre.

Daylight is a song that shines a light (pun intended) on the murky subject of domestic violence, describing the vicious circle that keeps women in abusive relationships – it’s a very powerful song, made all the more so by the gentle lilt of the vocals and guitars.

Finally, we hear Rachael sing in Yiddish for the first time on Umru Mayne – the punk guitars are great and the organ sound a bit like The Doors.  Apparently Rachael channelled Mandy Patinkin when recording!

Myopia is available here:

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Last week, I brought you a review of Timeless, the new album from musical legend Dave Willetts and gave you the opportunity to win a copy by answering the question

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

The answer is of course Phantom of the Opera and the lucky winner is

Bronwyn Wilson – click here to send your address

Those of you not lucky enough to win, the album is released on 2 February and is available to pre-order:

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.

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Two days to go until Alfie Boe and Michael Ball’s second album together, titled Together Again, is released and despite some tracks being released already, anticipation amongst fans is palpable.  Well, having listened several times now, I can unequivocally say that Together Again is a masterpiece and there are tracks that have been on constant replay since I first heard them.

A mix of well known favourites and newer songs, Together Again is that rare thing; the tricky second album that surpasses the giddy heights of the first.  Both Alfie and Michael give tour de force performances and the song choices reflect a much more harmonious blend of their voices.  Restrained when necessary, belting it out when the music requires, Alfie’s tenor and Michael’s baritone combine to showcase their contrasting styles perfectly, none better than on the opening track, a West Side Story medley.  Having been done to death you would think that there is nothing new the pair can add to Maria.  Wrong – Alfie and Michael sing this song as if their lives depended on it and, as a duet, manage to bring something new and refreshing to one of the most famous musical songs of all time.

Another famous and much recorded song to feature on the album is Stranger in Paradise, here mixed with This Is My Beloved, also from Kismet, the musical where Alfie and Michael first met and became friends.  Although the show was an unqualified disaster, at least according to these two, it seems that perhaps enough time has now passed to allow the pair to want to sing the music again.  For these reasons, this medley was one of the most hotly anticipated songs amongst fans (Alfie’s Stranger in Paradise was this week voted into our Best Live Song poll) and it doesn’t disappoint, particularly on This Is My Beloved, a song I wasn’t so familiar with.

Of the other tracks, highlights are The Prayer, Evermore and The RoseThe Prayer is just beautiful and is a treat for those who love to hear Alfie sing in Italian.  However, both Alfie and Michael excel and it seems to be a fitting song for the troubled times we currently live in.  Evermore is the newest song on the album, being from the live action Beauty and the Beast film released this year.  Dan Stevens sings it for the film and the soundtrack features Josh Groban – my only quibble with this album is that maybe the boys missed a trick not getting Groban to guest.  Perhaps a future collaboration might be on the cards?  Having said that, Evermore as a song could have been written for the pair, especially as it is quite reminiscent of the music of Les Mis.

The best song on the album, vocally is John Farnham’s You’re The Voice:

The duo performed this to great acclaim whilst on tour in Australia recently and I can’t wait to hear this live when the Together Again tour gets underway in a few weeks – it’s a song that needs the audience to really participate.  I can’t listen to this without singing along at the top of my voice, it’s going to be hairs on the back of your neck time in November / December.

Although You’re The Voice is fabulous, my favourite song and the one that sums up the appeal of Ball and Boe is Bring Me Sunshine.  You can hear the joy and happiness from both Alfie and Michael and again, this will be amazing live.  I’m sure Alfie and Michael will appear on Strictly Come Dancing this year and it would just make my year to see them sing Bring Me Sunshine with Susan Calman and Kevin Clifton accompanying.  For those of you who don’t watch Strictly, Susan and Kevin’s quickstep to this song was a joy to behold.

To sum up, this album is an out and out triumph and I can’t recommend it highly enough.  If you haven’t yet ordered your copy, get down to one of these HMV stores (click here) on Friday 27th to get a signed copy or click on the image below to order:

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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.

Will Dame Vera Lynn become the first centenarian to hit the number one spot in the album chart when her new album, Vera Lynn 100, is released tomorrow?  I wouldn’t bet against the original Forces Sweetheart as her last album achieved the top spot just a few years ago, meaning she would beat her own record as the oldest person to achieve a number one album.

On this album, Dame Vera’s original vocals have been set to new orchestrations, courtesy of Morgan Pochin who of course have produced and arranged several of Alfie’s albums.  The result is a masterclass of gorgeous accompaniments that show off Dame Vera’s vocals to perfection whilst bringing out the best in each duet partner.

Unsurprisingly, my favourite track is the album opener, We’ll Meet Again featuring Alfie Boe; the arrangement allows Alfie’s voice to soar but never to overshadow our Forces Sweetheart in one of her most famous songs.

Of the other duets, The White Cliffs of Dover with Alexander Armstrong and As Time Goes By with Aled Jones stand out for me.  Armstrong’s TV persona on Pointless is very much that of a smiley, affable gentleman and you can hear the smile in his voice on his track, just as you can hear the same in Jones’ voice.  Cynthia Erivo, on When You Wish Upon A Star is also beautiful and elegantly understated.  Of the songs that aren’t duets, the highlight is Sailing which I wasn’t aware that Dame Vera had recorded but apparently I’m not alone in that!  The recording has not been widely known and is a real find on this album.  I loved it.

The warmth of these tracks seems to reflect the way Britain in general feels about Dame Vera; rarely, if ever, can there have been a singer who so transcends one genre of entertainment whilst also representing such a precise period of history.  So closely linked is she with the Second World War that even those who were born long after the event still know her to be the “Forces Sweetheart”, regardless of who has held the title since.

This album is a delight to be enjoyed by all – we all know the songs so we can all sing along and indulge in one of our favourite national pastimes, nostalgia, whilst listening to an array of wonderful singers paying tribute to a national treasure.  I’ll leave the last word to Dame Vera herself:

It’s truly humbling that people still enjoy these songs from so many years ago, reliving the emotions of that time…and it’s so wonderful for me to hear ‘my songs’ again so beautifully presented in a completely new way.

I have one copy of this album to give away – just answer the question below* and the lucky winner will be drawn at random on 24 March!

Vera Lynn 100 is available here:

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This week I have been listening to “People’s Soprano” Rebecca Newman’s classical chart topping album Dare to Dream and it’s an absolute belter.  Although I have been aware of Rebecca for a year or so, mainly through twitter,(social media PR does work) this is the first time I have listened to her beautiful voice – and I’ve been missing out.

Having started her musical career aged 14 as Julie Jordan in Carousel at the Exmouth Pavilion, Rebecca then took holiday jobs to pay for singing lessons.  The world of work beckoned and it wasn’t until she went to York to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics that she began treating singing as more than just a hobby.  Weddings and busking supported her singing lessons and eventually led to the release of her first CD, Music Box in 2005. Cantare (2008), Memory (2009), O Holy Night (2010) and Fields of Gold (2011) followed.  Live performances last year culminated in supporting Aled Jones on his Cathedral tour.

Dare to Dream is a collection of mainly operatic arias with a couple of original songs (co-written by Rebecca) as well.  Of the two original songs, Heroes to the World is a classical sounding song with a pop like structure that could easily be something used in the sporting world whilst Dare to Dream is an inspiring song that sounds like it’s Rebecca’s personal motto.  If it isn’t, it should be!

My favourite song on the album is also Alfie Boe’s favourite (he has tweeted his support for Rebecca several times), Casta Diva, from Bellini’s Norma.  Known as one of the most difficult arias in a soprano’s repertoire, Rebecca’s soaring vocals gave me tingles down my spine as I listened.

Overall, the album has an excellent choice of songs to showcase Rebecca’s range although I did find my interest waning when it came to some of the songs that we are somewhat used to hearing from sopranos in recent years. Much better to hear Rebecca’s impressive voice wrapped around Micaela’s Aria, Rondine al Nido and Sull’Aria (duet with fellow soprano Mary Jess).  When it came to La Boheme’s Mi Chimiano Mimi, I confess that my mind started wandering to the possibilities of a Rebecca / Alfie duet – to hear them sing O Soave Fanciulla would be wonderful but anything would do!

Dare to Dream is available from Amazon:

rebecca newman

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