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BWW Album Review: Bobby Conte Thornton's ALONG THE WAY Elevates the Standards

BWW Album Review: Bobby Conte Thornton's ALONG THE WAY Elevates the Standards

Although we've got a shortage of new cast recordings this spring, some of Broadway's brightest are, thankfully, filling the gap with albums of their own. Bobby Conte Thornton's new album, Along the Way, puts a new spin on some of the best of pop and Broadway. It's a wide-ranging album that's sharper and more stylish than your average cabaret-covers compilation, and it's further proof that he's definitely one of Broadway's rising stars to watch.

The album kicks off with an unexpected medley of "Nature Boy" and "Blame It on My Youth." Thornton's voice glides through the tricky melody like it's nothing, and the combination of the two songs works surprisingly well. It's a strong start for the album as a whole, and, incidentally, leaves one considering how well-suited Thornton would be for Moulin Rouge.

As it so happens, that's a common theme on and off throughout the album. Thornton hasn't been around Broadway for long, so fans are pretty likely to just associate him with his A Bronx Tale role (or, for the lucky few who arrived before Broadway shut down, with his turn in the revival of Company). But after listening to this album, it's impossible not to wind up with something of a "dream roles" list for him. He pulls off the giddy enthusiasm of "She Loves Me" just as well as the elegant eloquence of "Love to Me" from The Light in the Piazza. And while audiences can't currently see him singing "Another Hundred People," his rendition of "Everybody Says Don't" is a stellar reminder of just how well-suited he is for these fast-talking, lyrically complicated Sondheim songs. Each song feels like it's not just being sung, it's being performed, which doesn't always happen on albums like these.

One of Thornton's biggest strengths is his ability to perform standards without sounding bland. It's all too easy for talented singers with beautiful voices to croon through piano-bar staples without adding anything new. It's hard to put a finger on what, exactly, is setting Thornton's renditions apart, but he manages that difficult feat of walking the line between over-produced "new" arrangements and the same-old-same-old. "Time Heals Everything" and a mash-up of "How Deep Is the Ocean?" and "Maybe It's Because I Love You Too Much" are the standouts for sure. "Me and Mrs. Jones" is a little less memorable, as is "I'm All Over It," but they're enjoyable, jazzy tracks nonetheless.

"Here, There, and Everywhere" is one of the more unexpected tracks on the album, and it's also one of the best. Among all the jazzy standards and Broadway hits is this acoustic interlude with an indie-folk vibe. It gives Thornton a chance to show off a different side of his voice, including a delicate, lovely upper register and falsetto. Where so much of the album is sleek and swingy, this track is a welcome break that washes away any doubt about Thornton's range.

The album wraps up with two easily recognizable tracks, "That's Life" and "Vienna." Both are easily recognizable songs that feel completely at home with the rest of the album, and Thornton sails through both of them with elegance and ease. Once again, these are tried-and-true songs that feature in a lot of albums and concerts, but Thornton has a knack for ensuring that they don't sound stale. Instead, there's a real joy in "That's Life" and real thoughtfulness in "Vienna." If this is what Thornton turns out as a first try, the future sounds pretty bright indeed.

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