John Denver Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits Album Review

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Review:

John Denver is one of relatively few singers that both my parents like (their tastes are not very compatible at all in general – my mom is all about classical music and opera, while my dad’s favorite genre is 60’s and 70’s folk-rock), so we listened to quite a lot of him when I was growing up and he’s been one of my favorite singers for pretty much as long as I remember. This album is a fantastic collection and contains almost all of my favorite Denver songs (the main exception being “Grandma’s Feather Bed”), so it was a must-buy for me. I also managed to convert my husband and a bunch of his family members into fans, so this album is a regular in our car rotation, especially on long trips. “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is a special favorite for us, as it was the first English language song my husband’s nephew loved when he came to live with us in the United States, and he’d always get the whole car singing along.

I imprinted so hard on Denver’s music that it’s practically a part of me and it’s hard to consider it objectively enough to write a good review. He certainly has a pleasant singing voice, but I think the real magic is from his beautiful and evocative lyrics. He also handles a range of emotions very well – from the achingly romantic “Annie’s Song,” to the melancholy “I’m Sorry,” to the just plain fun of “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” I do think a few of the songs go on a little too long (“Sunshine on My Shoulders” in particular always stands out to me as a song that’s beautiful but should be about half as long as it is), but these are relatively few.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

The Musicals Album Review

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Review:

My devotion to Michael Ball is long-lasting and rather infamous among my friends. “Michael Ball sings it better” is something you hear a lot from me. Michael Ball sings everything better. (Well, almost everything.) Like my favorite operatic tenor, Placido Domingo, he’s a natural baritone with the vocal range of a tenor, which gives his voice a richness and depth that most pure tenors don’t have without sacrificing the ability to hit those high notes. And hold them, and hold them…

Amazingly, he’s had no formal vocal training, but his incredible voice has made him one of the leading musical theater stars of London’s West End since he created the role of Marius in Les Miserables in the mid-80’s. With The Musicals, he gets back to his roots with an enjoyable collection of songs from some of Broadway and the West End’s greatest hits.

Surprisingly, however, the album isn’t as good as it ought to be. There are several strange song choices and arrangements. Several of the songs are written for female characters, and despite switching the pronouns, they don’t quite work for a man. “I Dreamed a Dream” in particular jars me, because no 19th century man is going to have his life ruined by being seduced and abandoned to the extent of Fantine, so complaining about “this hell I’m living” comes off a bit rich. Maybe if I didn’t know her story so well, it wouldn’t bother me so much, but it does. “The Last Night of the World” and “All I Ask of You,” which are duets in Miss Saigon and The Phantom of the Opera, also sound kind of strange as solo songs.

Despite my misgivings about some of the song choices, Ball’s voice is incredible throughout. His rendition of “Anthem” (from Chess) is especially inspiring.

“Let man’s petty nations tear themselves apart/My land’s only borders lie around my heart!”

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5), but “Anthem” is 5 Stars (5 / 5)

Perhaps Love Album Review

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Review:

This is a rather interesting collection of English pop songs as sung by the great Spanish operatic tenor Placido Domingo (my favorite). My mom had this album and played it often while I was growing up, so my feelings about it are colored by nostalgia. I know that some of my non-opera-loving college friends, for example, found the operatic technique a little overblown and Domingo’s accent too thick, especially in his rendition of “Yesterday,” while as a bit of an opera snob myself, I found some of the other songs not quite “worthy” of Domingo’s incredible voice. However, there are several songs on the album that are so knock-your-socks-off gorgeous that I have to recommend it. My favorites include:

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Puccini: La Boheme Album Review

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Review:

A brilliant recording of my favorite opera. La Boheme is one of the world’s most accessible operas for beginners. Nowadays, when opera is widely regarded as some sort of snobby, elitist thing, it’s easy to forget that 100 years ago opera composers and stars were the rock stars of their day. Puccini was one of the biggest, and when listening to La Boheme, it’s easy to see why. Seriously, every damn tune in the whole opera is hummable.

Like most great operas, La Boheme is a blend of the ridiculous (she’s dying of tuberculosis and she sings like THAT?) and the sublime. This particular album reaches more towards the sublime. Although Pavarotti wasn’t my favorite tenor, his voice blends beautifully with that of Mirella Freni as Mimi and Rolando Panerai as Marcello. The other performances are also top-notch.

Here’s the great love duet from Act 1: “O Soave Fanciulla”:

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

Russian Music: Любэ

Review:

Любэ, most commonly transliterated as Lyube, is my favorite Russian band. I was first introduced to them in one of my college Russian classes, when a professor played their song “Не валяй дурака, Америка” (Don’t Play the Fool, America) for us. It’s all about how Alaska rightfully belongs to Russia and Catherine the Great never should have sold it to the United States, and it ends with them screaming about caviar in the background. It is, quite frankly, hilarious.

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That evening on the phone, I mentioned how much I’d enjoyed it to my USSR-born boyfriend (now husband) and discovered that he not only knew the song well, but considers Любэ his favorite band. He recommended a few more songs to me, but this was years before the arrival of helpful sites like YouTube and I didn’t get the chance to really investigate them more until my semester abroad in Russia, when a compilation CD of their greatest hits was one of the first things I bought.

The band was formed in the final years of the Soviet Union and is led by lead vocalist Nikolay Rastorguyev. The other members include: Aleksey Tarasov (backing vocals), Sergei Pereguda (guitar), Pavel Usanov (bass), Vitaliy Loktev (keyboard, bayan), and Aleksandr Erokhin (drums). Many of their songs have military or patriotic themes (in addition to mine and my husband’s, Любэ is also apparently Putin’s favorite band), but they sing in several styles, including rock, folk, and ballads. My Russian is a little short of the vocabulary necessary to appreciate some of their songs in full, but the lyrics of those I can understand are often beautiful. (Though they have several humorous songs besides “Не валяй дурака, Америка,” it’s not their standard style.) I also love Rastorguyev’s voice, which can be both gentle and harsh.

Here are some more of my favorite songs. Note: I’ve done my best to find versions with English subtitles, but some of the translations are better than others.

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The Phantom of the Opera: Original London Cast Albums Review

When I was a child, there was a Carol Burnett/Julie Andrews skit that I thought was absolutely hilarious called “The Phantom of the Opry”:

Inspired, my parents gave me the “Highlights from The Phantom of the Opera: Original London Cast” album for my 8th birthday and I’ve been a huge “phan” ever since.

To this day, more than 25 years after the musical opened on London’s West End, the original London cast is considered the best by many phans. Though I enjoyed the 25th Anniversary Concert and the three touring productions I’ve seen of the stage musical, I have to agree. Sarah Brightman’s acting skills apparently left something to be desired on stage (see the music video below for evidence), but her high, pure soprano was perfect for the role of Christine and comes across beautifully in the cast albums, while Michael Crawford’s vocals – by turns hypnotically beautiful and threatening – epitomized angel, phantom, and ultimately, man.

Which original London cast album is right for you?

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Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary Concert Review

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Review:

I recently had the pleasure of watching the Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary Concert on PBS.

As a longtime “phan” of the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical, I was terribly disappointed by the 2004 film version. Though there were some impressive special effects – especially the amazing opening sequence – the singing was mediocre, the Phantom’s supposedly horrific deformity looked like a bad sunburn, and there were some remarkably stupid changes to the plot.

Despite high hopes, I came away from the theater after seeing the 2004 film with the conclusion that the world was still missing a great video Phantom for phans who can’t make it to Broadway or the West End whenever they want to see the show live. With the Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary Concert, we’ve come much closer to having it.

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The Secret Garden Original Broadway Cast Recording Album Review

The Secret Garden (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

Price: $5.99

4.7 out of 5 stars (36 customer reviews)

19 used & new available from $3.99

Review:

I was introduced to this musical by an excellent local production and liked it so much I went out and bought the Broadway cast album, which has become a favorite. Rebecca Luker is simply extraordinary as Lily. Her high, clear soprano is both warm and haunting.

The rest of the cast is also excellent, though I personally prefer Mandy Patinkin’s acting to his singing and favor the Anthony Warlow/Philip Quast version of the show’s biggest hit song, Lily’s Eyes:

Other favorite songs include  I Heard Someone Crying, A Girl In The Valley, Show Me The Key, The Girl I Mean To Be, Quartet: There’s A Man, Hold On, and Letter Song.

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My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

The Scarlet Pimpernel Original Broadway Cast Recording

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Review:

I’ve never seen this musical live, but the soundtrack is very enjoyable and I’m surprised The Scarlet Pimpernel never became a bigger hit. As a huge fan of Terrence Mann, who played the villain Chauvelin, I have to say that his songs are my favorite, particularly the swoon-worthy “Where’s the Girl?” and the viciously cynical trio “The Riddle.”

There’s also some excellent comedy songs and I’m impressed by Douglas Sills’s ability to transition seamlessly between the roles of clownish buffoon and dashing hero.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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The Mask and the Mirror Album Review

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Review:

I don’t remember exactly how I discovered this album. I think it was playing in some store while I was browsing for something else. Regardless, I was so entranced, I bought it on the spot (with my own money – I was 13 at the time) and have been a fan ever since.

Loreena McKennit masterfully blends historical and ethnic influences, including Celtic, Arabic, and Spanish, ethereal vocals, and instruments ranging from the piano and harp to the uillean pipes, dumbeg, tabla, and oud to create music that is almost literally transporting. Listening, you only have to close your eyes for your imagination to whisk you off to Morocco or Spain or Celtic Britain.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

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