BWW Album Review: Max von Essen's CALL ME OLD-FASHIONED Makes Old Hits New Again
Broadway has gotten bigger and bolder in recent years, with musical styles that have long since left behind the sounds of Gershwin, Porter, and their fellow golden-age composers. Broadway voices have changed too - but there are a few who still sound like they stepped right out of the past. With his new album Call Me Old-Fashioned, Tony nominee Max von Essen proves that he's found the perfect balance between modern Broadway star and golden age elegance.
The album kicks off with "Everything Old Is New Again," and really, that could be the album's thesis statement. It's smooth, jazzy, and effortlessly cool in a classic way. Singing standards is an easy trap for vocalists to fall into: one wrong note, and you've ruined someone's favorite song, but too many right notes, and you're just imitating someone who already sang it. Von Essen, though, has a voice that's made for this genre. There's just enough of his own style to set him apart, but not so much to make the album's arrangements sound like second-rate lounge covers. It's pure elegance.
Ever the Broadway star, von Essen tackles some of the most recognizable songs from classic musicals. While his "She Loves Me" is just a tiny bit lacking in energy, his "Almost Like Being In Love" is so brimming with joy that you can't help smiling when you listen to it. That's something that permeates the whole album: a sense of genuine, openhearted joy that's positively infectious.
Von Essen doesn't just stick with the expected classics for a jazz-voiced male singer: he tackles a couple of gender-bent standards too. His take on "Show Me" is a total delight, but the real fun comes with a medley of "Gotta Have Me Go With You" and Meet Me In St. Louis's "The Trolley Song." There's a giddiness to the mash-up, but also a jazzy feel that is somewhat unexpected for these songs but works incredibly well.
Of course, von Essen's most notable role to date was probably his Tony-nominated run in An American in Paris, and he pays tribute to that glorious score here in two separate tracks. First up is a Gershwin medley, taking many of the songs used in the musical - including "I Got Rhythm," "Shall We Dance?", "'S Wonderful," and "They Can't Take That Away From Me," among others - and threading them together into one epic, eight-minute medley. Fans of the musical will also appreciate the use of the central melody from the "An American in Paris" ballet as a bit of connective tissue throughout the medley.
The album then closes out with "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise," which was von Essen's big showstopper in An American in Paris, and it's every bit the showstopper here as well. Thanks to von Essen's charism, vocals, and excellent music choices, the whole album is a perfect way to keep Old Man Trouble from coming 'round your door.