BWW CD Reviews: Ghostlight Records' TENNESSEE WILLIAMS: WORDS AND MUSIC is Viscerally Sultry

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BWW CD Reviews: Ghostlight Records' TENNESSEE WILLIAMS: WORDS AND MUSIC is Viscerally Sultry
Cover art courtesy of Ghostlight Records.

When it comes to Southern playwrights, Tennessee Williams remains the quintessential example, and music is an inextricable element of both his cherished classics and lesser-known works. In a recent 90-minute concert, David Kaplan crafted a show that explores and celebrates the songbook of Tennessee Williams. Now, Ghostlight Records has released TENNESSEE WILLIAMS: WORDS AND MUSIC, a CD that preserves the atmosphere and idea of the concert and features Alison Fraser's soulful and gravely alto.

The one-woman concert highlights the sadness and disenfranchisement that seems to echo through the female voices in many of Tennessee Williams' works. Listening to Alison Fraser's raspy voice in song and reciting some of Tennessee Williams' most poignant monologues, the audience can't help get swept away by the disc's loose narrative. In Alison Fraser all of the broken-down women fuse together into one despondent woman who sounds as if she is at the end of her career. Lost in hope and desperation, she recounts loves lost in and out of song.

Alison Fraser, who is currently touring as Madame Morrible in the First National Tour of the megahit musical WICKED, gets to show off her sultry and fascinating alto voice across the disc. She commands attention with tender and heart wrenching performances of these dusky tunes that are either mentioned in stage directions or dialogue in Tennessee Williams' plays. Letting go of the trappings of vocal training, she slides from note to note, throws some sounds to the back of her throat, and sings with raw emotionality. We hear breaks and cracks in her voice, letting us viscerally feel each number.

With or without the appeal of Tennessee Williams, the true star of this album is Alison Fraser's incandescent performances. Her weakest moment on the recording is the yodeling section of "New San Antonio Rose." Yet, her yodeling is done in such an affected way that it still moves the listener. With all the charm of a New Orleans nightclub singer, Alison Fraser brings numbers like "It's Only a Paper Moon," "Sweet Leilani," "St. Louis Blues," and Nöel Coward's "The Party's Over" to remarkable life on the album. Alison Fraser makes each of these classic tunes invigorating.

The New Orleans based group The Gentlemen Callers accompanies Alison Fraser with vibrant and lively New Orleans jazz. Their raucous arrangements of the numbers transport listeners to Elysian Fields Avenue in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood. We can envision ourselves right outside of Stanley and Stella Kowalski's apartment, listening to the music and life of the famous city.

Whether it is nostalgia, a love for Tennessee Williams, Alison Fraser's voice, or any other reason you pick up TENNESSEE WILLIAMS: WORDS AND MUSIC, there is no denying that this record is well worth everything you invest in it. The sterling jazz performances deliver everything once could want from a well-constructed jazz record. The narrative of the recording is evocative. The smoky vocals are alluring and deeply satisfying.

Ghostlight Records released TENNESSEE WILLIAMS: WORDS AND MUSIC online and in stores on April 8, 2014. The album can be purchased from Ghostlight Records' website, iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold.

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