A Look at Twelve Vocalists' CDs

As 2014 winds down, there are a lot of new recordings to talk about, both cast recordings and individual vocalists.  Releases from the former category are being covered in a column on BroadwayDirect.com this week, and for the latter, here are a dozen that I’ve quite enjoyed, starting with six from female vocalists:

Celia Berk - You Can’t Rush Spring (Gramercy Nightingale Music Co.)

Cabaret performer Berk draws from roughly eighty or ninety years of songwriting for this shimmering recording.  The varied array of tunes on the album come from well-known songwriters like Stephen Sondheim; John Kander and Fred Ebb; and Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner, but the titles, “Sand,” “It’s the Strangest Thing,” and “You’re All the World to Me,” respectively, are not the ones you normally find on discs like this.  But Berk’s selection of rarely-heard tunes isn’t all that makes “Spring” special.  There’s also Berk’s gossamer delivery, which brings to mind classic band singers, and Alex Rybeck’s astute arrangements, which both support her vocals and gracefully illuminate the music.  I’ve found myself returning to this one frequently.

Ann Hampton Callaway - From Sassy to Divine: The Sarah Vaughan Project (Shanachie) 

This recording of a concert Callaway offered at Dizzy’s Jazz Club in Manhattan contains a delectable array of songs, from her überly seductive “Whatever Lola Wants” (from Damn Yankees) to the Gershwins’ “Someone to Watch Over Me,” in which her vocals are filled with a palpable (and heartbreaking) ache.  When she turns to “Mean to Me,” she shows a fun, teasing side.  Particularly notable, I think, is her rendition of “Send in the Clowns.” For this well-known tune, Callaway’s voice takes on an ethereal quality and her vocals are beautifully supported by an elegant, classic jazz arrangement (co-created by Vaughan’s frequent collaborator Bill Mays), which surprisingly and effectively reference “Moonlight Sonata” and enhance the song’s already significant gravitas.

Kimberly Faye Greenberg - Fabulous Fanny: The Songs and Stories of Fanny Brice (CDBaby)

On this superb disc, you’ll find that the Ziegfeld Follies star who’s so closely associated with Streisand comes to life anew thanks to Greenberg’s fine work.  She’s actually played Brice in a trio of shows, and this album is based on her one-woman show dedicated to the singing comedienne.  What’s great about Fabulous Fanny is that it resurrects, tunefully and hysterically, so many of the songs that Brice performed.  Yes, there are the familiar ones like “Second-Hand Rose,” but there are also ones like “Sadie Salome” and “I Was a Floradora Baby.”  The disc does pay homage to the incarnation of Brice that most of the world knows:  the one from Funny Girl and there are a couple numbers from that show, and then, as a bonus, there are a pair of numbers written for the musical Ghostlight, which also features Brice as a character.

Isabel Rose - Trouble in Paradise (Jubilee Recordings)

This singer, who has been working in an jazz mode for a while, breaks into a bigger and more pop vernacular with this new 12-track release that takes its title from the hit Bye Bye Birdie song, which has been given an infectious funkadelic arrangement by Eric Helmkemp.  Beyond this selection from the realm of musical theater, Rose’s choices are eclectic.  There’s “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl” (which was a hit for both Bessie Smith and Nina Simone), the Captain and Tennille’s 70s classic, "Love Will Keep Us Together," and Nat King Cole’s “More and More of Your Amor.”  Rose renders these diverse tunes and others (The Supremes’ “Reflections”) with a sultry feline-esque quality that’s positively seductive.

The Shapiro Sisters - Live Out Loud: Live at 54 BELOW (Broadway Records)

Real-life sisters Abigail and Milly Shapiro have been racking up impressive stage credits of late (in shows like Matilda and Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas), and you’ll find out why as you listen to this live recording of a show they offered at 54 BELOW:  they’re engaging and smart performers.  Their repertoire features some of the “princess” numbers you might imagine (“Part of Your World” from Little Mermaid, for instance), but then, there are tunes like “The Pretty Little Dolly” (a Yuletide tune that works for Halloween too).  They were joined at the concert by a performer who herself started on the Great White Way early in life, the original Annie, Andrea McArdle.  She’s on hand for charming renditions of “Together” (from Gypsy) and “Anything You Can Do” (from Annie Get Your Gun). 

Barbra Streisand - Partners (Columbia)

Streisand turns to some old favorites like “The Way We Were” and “Evergreen,” among others, on Partners (Columbia).  For each track, she’s paired with a stellar male vocalist, such as Billy Joel (“New York State of Mind”), Stevie Wonder (“People”), Andrea Boccelli (“I Can Still See Your Face”), and Josh Groban (“Somewhere”).  It’s one of her best albums in recent memory and worth looking into.  Saying anything more would really be overkill for this singing legend.

And after “Ladies first,” six albums from male singers:

David Campbell - Sings John Bucchino (Social Family Records (Australia) Pty Ltd / Luckiest Records Pty Ltd)

Australian actor-singer Campbell (who frequently graced cabaret stages here in New York and was seen in Sondheim’s Saturday Night off-Broadway) and American songwriter John Bucchino combine forces for this smoothly mellow album that brings together tunes that Bucchino has written for the stage and screen as well as standalone songs, such as “Grateful” and “Feels Like Home,” that have become part of many singers’ repertoires.  Bucchino is the sole musician on the disc (at the piano and his work as always is impeccable) and his work perfectly melds Campbell’s vocals, which can be both winningly delicate and passionately robust.   Highlights here include the bluesy “What You Need” and the jazzier “Puddle of Love.”

John Michael Dias - Write This Way (CDBaby)

It’s unsurprising that this performer, who has played Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys on Broadway and on tour, has a terrific falsetto, and he displays it amply and ably on this album where the Gershwins brush up against Cynthia Weill and Barry Mann, and Cole Porter meets Billy Joel (in a swell medley of “Take Me Back to Manhattan” and “New York State of Mind.”)  What is surprising are Dias’ delicious lower and slightly smoky notes, which are particularly heard when he delivers Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” as a lovely duet with Jamie Beth Barton.  One other standout on the album is Sondheim’s “Being Alive” that’s part acoustic, part vocalized instrumental, and thoroughly moving.  It’s a marvelously fresh take on this often-performed tune.

Michael Law - Easy to Love (PICCD)

Law, director of the Piccadilly Dance Orchestra in England, takes a turn as a solo artist on this album that’s intoxicating from start to finish. Law lends his supple, dulcet tones to a bevy of tunes by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and Noel Coward, among others, and he delivers such well-known tunes as Porter’s “De-Lovely” and “I Won’t Dance” (Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein and Otto Harbach) with immecable phrasing and with gentle piano accompaniment that he’s also playing.  The album was recorded live at The Pheasantry in London, and there’s a decided intimacy to the album, where, among many, many highlights, you will find a deeply felt rendition of Berlin’s “Change Partners” and a grandly conceived medley of “After You - Who?” and “Night and Day.”  Hunt this one out.

Jesse Luttrell - Jesse Luttrell (Fred Barton Music)

Luttrell lends his rich baritone to a sextet of tunes on this EP that also features some swank orchestrations from Fred Barton.   Each of the selections are pretty sweet, but if I had to pick faves, I’d say that the standouts are “Make Someone Happy” (from Do Re Mi), which has a smart combination of brashness and delicacy; and “Where’s That Rainbow?” (from Rodgers and Hart’s Peggy-Ann), which has actually sounds as if it might have just come to the 21st century from the 1920s.  

Leslie Odom Jr. - Leslie Odom Jr. (CDBaby)

Odom, who made his Broadway debut in Leap of Faith, garnered some great reviews, and landed on NBC’s Smash, has now released his first solo album and it’s a jazzy, acoustic joy.  From the world of musical theater, he offers up exceptionally fresh versions of standards like "Look for the Silver Lining" (heard in both the musicals Zip and Sally) "Joey, Joey, Joey" (from The Most Happy Fella), and "Love Look Away" (from Flower Drum Song).  The nine-track recording also features a couple of duets.  One, a driving “I Know That You Know,” features some exceptional piano work from Elew (Eric Lewis), and another, the gently moving “Song for the Asking,” pairs Odom with the silvery voiced Nicolette Robinson.

Nick Ziobro - A Lot of Livin’ to Do (Titanium Entertainment)

This recording, produced by none other than Michael Feinstein, proves to be an ideal showcase for this classic crooner who’s also got a contemporary vibe.  Ziobro’s at home with both Burt Bacharach and Hal David (a heartfelt “This Guy’s in Love With You”), Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields (a swinging, effervescent “I Won’t Dance”), and Sondheim (“Anyone Can Whistle”).  Ziobro delivers this last number with remarkable simplicity, enhancing the song’s lyrical ache, and it’s just one reason why the album is a sparkling debut from a performer I’m betting we’ll be hearing more from for many years to come.