BWW CD Reviews: Billy Porter's BILLY'S BACK ON BROADWAY is Smooth and Relaxing
Despite an extensive and impressive career, Billy Porter recently became a household name when he won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Lola in Broadway's hit musical KINKY BOOTS. On April 15, 2014, the incandescent star released a solo album of Broadway standards, titled BILLY'S BACK ON BROADWAY, to remind fans and audiences that his indefatigable talent is back home on Broadway. He applies a big band swing, jazz, and contemporary R&B soundscape to these hit songs, giving listeners a unique and intimately personal perspective on these songs that we have come to adore in other iterations.
Billy Porter's voice has been noted for his deft skills in the styles of jazz and R&B, which is what is predominantly showcased on this smooth and relaxing album. Like a nicely aged whisky or deeply nuanced red wine, Billy Porter's performances warm the soul with their chill, laidback melodies and his vocal maturity. Across the disc, Billy Porter exercises keen vocal restraint, hitting notes with precision and crafting a dusky, night-club atmosphere for his listeners. As BILLY'S BACK ON BROADWAY spins in our stereos we feel transported to a dimly lit jazz lounge where our troubles can be easily forgotten.
Billy Porter opens the album with an intriguing version of John Kander and Fred Ebb's "But the World Goes 'Round" from NEW YORK, NEW YORK. With this track his spirited vocals embrace the ears, gently drawing us into the album. The second track, free from the mania usually associated with the song, is a fascinatingly enticing, sentimental, and surprisingly cheerful rendition of "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from GYPSY. The typical bitter tones are replaced by dulcet vocals that leave a smile on our faces and our hearts. Closing the peppy opening set, Billy Porter delivers a resplendent version of the cherished anthem "Don't Rain on My Parade" from FUNNY GIRL.
With track four, the tonal ambience of the album shifts from the swinging sounds of jazzy big band to a more contemporary R&B feeling, and the record loses some steam along the way. Billy Porter's vocals still shine on numbers like Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's "On the Street Where You Live" and "I've Gotta Be Me" from GOLDEN RAINBOW; however, the urgency of the album is lost in these ballads, especially as "I've Gotta Be Me" drags on for about a minute longer than it should.
Yet, Billy Porter breathes life back into the tracklisiting with a delicate version of "I'm Not My Father's Son" from KINKY BOOTS. In this pared down rendition of the powerful ballad, originally a duet between Charlie and Lola, Billy Porter expertly weaves in all the required emotionality and gives his fans another version of the song to cherish.
As the album comes to a close, we are treated to a lovely mash-up of "Happy Days Are Here Again," the theme to Franklin Roosevelt's 1932 election, and the Judy Garland classic "Get Happy" from the 1950 film Summer Stock. Additionally, Cyndi Lauper adds softly crooned vocals to the appealing track. Next he tackles Frank Loesser's "Luck Be a Lady" with funk energy, and chases that with a beautiful version of "Take the Moment" from DO I HEAR A WALTZ. The disc ends with a sumptuous yet reserved take on "I Am Changing" from DREAMGIRLS. Instead of riffing to the heavens, Billy Porter vividly showcases his vocal sophistication and control.
From the big band beginnings to the gospel-inspired closing of the album, producer Rob Mounsey has put together a wonderful album that showcases Billy Porter's rich talents. However, for my personal tastes, the tracklisting could use some reshuffling. After the third song, the album seems to lose its energy, resting on the laurels of Billy Porter's ability to decadently sing gentle and tuneful numbers. If the first three tracks were peppered throughout the album it may feel more alive and energetic than the perfectly lazy Sunday ambience that fills a majority of the album.
On BILLY'S BACK ON BROADWAY, Billy Porter showcases a side of him that KINKY BOOTS does not. With a quiet sophistication and tangible maturity, he lets loose with a smooth jazz and R&B album that pairs perfectly with a smoky pinot noir or bold scotch. If you're looking to escape the stresses of life, Billy Porter is ready to sing to your heart, mind, and soul.
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