My Top 10 (Well, 15) Albums of 2014
It's that time of year, and everyone is making their lists. For me, this task is always harder than it probably should be. I wrestle with myself and debate the merits of everything. I worry about who might get their feelings hurt, and whom I may accidentally overlook. So, for 2014, I promised myself to make a simple list of the 10 albums from 2014 that I simply couldn't get enough of. Naturally, that list is actually 15 items long. (Surprise!) But, I feel that it is a comprehensive list of the 15 albums that I simply can no longer live my life without. And for convenience (or my sanity), the list is not ranked. It's simply in alphabetical order. (Whew!)
A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER - Original Broadway Cast
You may remember that my original review for this album, released by Ghostlight Records, talked about how wonderful the Tony award nominated score was, but that I simply couldn't find that earwig moment that made it stick with me. I posited that it was because I hadn't seen the show in performance. For me, I found that my hypothesis was on the money. The album made me want to see the show, and then actually seeing the show has ensured that I have traversed the streets of New York City and Jersey City humming the ultimately catchy tunes of "It's Better With a Man" or "I've Decided to Marry You" or signing out "Monty Navarro, no one know who you really are!"
BILLY'S BACK ON BROADWAY -Billy Porter
This release from Concord Records just further reiterated that Billy Porter is blessed with pure talent. On the album Billy Porter croons with a jazzy soulfulness that is beyond satisfying. He is unadorned (No wig. No heels.), in his natural state, and just singing his favorite tunes with every fiber of his being. Seriously, who doesn't want to listen to his renditions of "Don't Rain on My Parade" and "I Am Changing" on repeat? If the album is any indication of what audiences can expect in Lincoln Center's Appel Room on January 28, 2015 for his American Songbook concert, they are in for something beyond magical. There is just no denying that Billy Porter is a master of his craft.
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY: THE MUSICAL - Original London Cast
As a young child I fell under the spell of Tim Rice's lyrics for the hit musicals JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and EVITA. As an adult, I'm still consistently impressed by his lyrical prowess. FROM HERE TO ENTERNITY: THE MUSICAL is a great example of his skills in that department, as they pair perfectly with Stuart Brayson's score to vividly stir emotions in the listeners. Add in Robert Lonsdale's soaring tenor, Darius Campbell's lush baritone, and Siubhan Harrison's sultry vocal instrument, and you've got the makings of a delicious album. I know this is a dicey inclusion because a lot of the critical response to the show has been mixed at best, but I truly adore it. I can't shake numbers like "Run Along Joe" and "More Than America."
GHOSTLIGHT - Betty Buckley
Palmetto Records' release of Betty Buckley's GHOSTLIGHT couldn't be more perfect. Working with T Bone Bennett, she wanted to create a jazzy album that was reminiscent of those moments before dawn when a theater is dead silent and the only light in the building emanates from the bare bulb proudly standing down stage, center-the ghost light. With electrifying vocals, silky jazz, a heavy dose of moonlight, and bewitching artistry, Betty Buckley achieved her goal. She delights on this album with spellbindingly smoky interpretations on popular tunes such as "Blue Skies" and "Bewitched." GHOSTLIGHT is undeniably haunting, and it's a solo release that'll stick with you for years to come.
This album is another Ghostlight Records release, and it is probably the most daring, risk-taking album I have ever heard. And, the best part of all is that you'll sing the praises of Mary Testa and Michael Starobin for being so bold. HAVE FAITH simply dazzles from the moment it begins to its last note. Furthermore, Michael Starobin has smartly programmed and tracked the album to where it pretty much sounds like one continuous song, with each track spilling over into the other. With her unique and impressive instrument, Mary Testa holds listeners in splendid awe with her sparkling originality on extravagant interpretations of songs like "Pink," "Thank U," and "Hallalujah."
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH - Original Broadway Cast
Good day? Bad day? Every day is a perfect day to listen to Atlantic Records' release of HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (Original Broadway Cast Recording)! It just makes every day that much better. Neil Patrick Harris and Lena Hall both blow listeners away with their brilliant and inspired recordings on the album, and who hasn't found themselves raising their hands and wailing "Lift up your hands!" on the 1 train while listening to "Midnight Radio?" Oh, that was just me? Sorry, not sorry. Other hits on the album include "Sugar Daddy," "Wig in a Box," "Wicked Little Town," and "The Long Grift." Writers John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask certainly earned their spots in the theater pantheon with this one!
HERE LIES LOVES - Original Cast Recording
In so many ways, I think of this musical as the EVITA for today's children. I hope some small town child has found this recording, listens to it, and dreams of what it must be like in performance. Later, in his or her 20s, I hope that same child gets to see it staged, and that his or her heart is overjoyed. That is the journey I had with EVITA. In the meantime (and even afterward), I'll keep HERE LIES LOVE on repeat. David Byrne and Fatboy Slim's infectious music is brought to life by a gaggle of uber-talented artists, including Ruthie Ann Miles, Jose Llana, Conrad Ricamora, and Melody Butiu. After one listen, you'll never forget "The Rose of Tacloban," "When She Walked By," and "Just Ask the Flowers."
INTO THE WOODS - Music From the Original Motion Picture
For those of us who are deeply passionate about theatre, film musicals both excite us and fill us with dread. Long before we see the final product we already have a ton to say about every aspect of the film. Luckily, INTO THE WOODS seems to be a pretty solid homerun. Confession: I still haven't watched it, but the two-disc soundtrack is stunning. Stephen Sondheim's score played by a large Hollywood orchestra is breathtaking, and there is not a single vocal performance that I don't like. I seriously doubted Meryl Streep's ability to do anything but disappoint me with her signing, but her "Last Midnight" had eating a hefty murder of crows. Also, Daniel Huttlestone's "Giants in the Sky" is just charming.
LESLIE ODOM JR. - Leslie Odom, Jr.
In many ways it seems like Leslie Odom, Jr. just kind of materialized into the world of Broadway. He was a regular on NBC's SMASH, who blew us away with a stirring rendition of Donnie McClurkin's "Stand." He was in the failed LEAP OF FAITH, and he delivered a remarkable performance as Michael in TICK, TICK... BOOM! for City Center Encores! this past summer. This earned him enough of a following to successfully crowdfund his glorious debut solo album. The snazzy, dance-inducing record features jazzy spins on songs like "Cheer Up Charlie" and "The Guilty Ones." I definitely look forward to him sticking around for a long time, and I personally cannot wait for his follow up album.
SCOTT ALAN GREATEST HITS: VOLUME 1 - Various Artists
The music of Scott Alan has been something I swear I've enjoyed from the days of Napster and Limewire. I first discovered him by finding tunes he'd written sung by performers I followed. As I fell in love with these tracks, I discovered his genius as a writer. The release of his greatest hits is like a trip down memory lane, as I can remember the first time I heard almost all of the tracks on the album. Featuring artists like Stephanie J. Block and Willemijn Verkaik and songs like "Home," 'Anything Worth Holding On To," and "Taking Back My Life," this is a collection of amazing songs sung by talented people. It also makes me more excited about the Scott Alan concert at 54 BELOW on January 19, 2015!
SPARK - Stearns Matthews
Even though he has been a cabaret performer in New York City for years, I personally just discovered Stearns Matthews. SPARK brilliantly opens with "The Spark of Creation," and the CD delights as he uses every track to truly showcase his vocal brilliance. Fantastically sung versions of "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" and "King of the Road" round the album out, but my favorite song is the never before recorded classic "Me and My Alligator." Personally, I think this single track is worth the price of the whole album. Luckily for listeners, every single one of the tunes is sung with fascinating pizazz and charisma. Try not to fall in love with this album; I bet you'll fail.
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY - Original Broadway Cast
While 2015 may go down in history as the year of Jason Robert Brown, 2014 brought us some wonderful treats from him too. And, at the bottom line, Ghostlight Records' release of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY has to be the best. From the gorgeously understated opening melody of the overture played on a solo cello, you just knew that this was going to be a score you clung to. Everyone knows that this is the most beautiful music composed for the Broadway stage in years, which is why it won the Tony Award for both Best Original Score and Best Orchestrations. If you don't own it, you need it. Buy it now. If you do own it, listen to it right now. It's been far too long since you last heard this music. I promise.
VENICE - Original Cast Recording
So, I'm still new to New York City. I no longer tell people how many weeks I've lived here. I now use months. But, where did this show come from? Even before I lived here, I thought I was fairly on top of all things theatre in NYC. This energetic pop rock/hip-hop score is breathtakingly wondrous. The lyrics are phenomenal. VENICE is a futuristic sci-fi tale of rebellion mashed-up with Shakespeare. It's simply stunning, and I can't get enough of it. I want to hear Matt Sax and Eric Rosen's trunk songs. I want them to write more musicals. The artistry of this show is refreshing and rejuvenating. Then, there is the added bonus that Uzo Aduba (Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black) sings on the album too.
WEST SIDE STORY - San Francisco Symphony
When I think of Leonard Bernstein, I think of this score. In fact, WEST SIDE STORY is his most widely cherished work. The lyrics by Stephen Sondheim are richly evocative. And even though we've all heard it 1,000 or more times, this musical still hits us in the feels as if we're experiencing it for the first time. Under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas and in the capable hands of the San Francisco Symphony, the score is brought to superbly lush and opulent life. Alexandra Silber delights as Maria. Cheyenne Jackson is stunning as Tony. Jessica Vosk is a revelation as Anita. For many years diehard fans of WEST SIDE STORY have waited for the quintessential and perfect recording of this material. Well, here it is.
WHERE THE SKY ENDS: THE SONGS OF MICHAEL MOTT - Various Artists
I love when an album introduces me to an artist I have never heard of. This was the case with WHERE THE SKY ENDS. I was wholly unfamiliar with Micahel Mott until this CD appeared in my mailbox, and now I'm proud to call myself a fan. His perfect for the stage pop ballads zing with emotionality and are buoyant with life. Furthermore, the assembled artists on the album serve as a veritable Who's Who of young Broadway stars, featuring performers such as Sierra Boggess, Jackie Burns, Jeremy Jordan, Laura Osnes, James Snyder, and more. The collection is filled to overflowing with lovely music sung by amazing talent. The themes of hope and making dreams come true are just icing on the cake.
Of course, no year in review is complete without a look into the future. As we hurtle towards 2015 at a breakneck pace, the two albums I find myself the most excited about are HONEYMOON IN VEGAS (Original Broadway Cast Recording) and SIDE SHOW (Original 2014 Broadway Cast Recording). I know you're thinking, "But, David, you can already purchase HONEYMOON IN VEGAS." Well, you can purchase it digitally. For me, part of the thrill of owning an album is holding it in your hands and flipping through the liner notes. So, I'm anxiously awaiting Universal Music Enterprises' physical release of the album on January 13, 2015. Additionally, I simply cannot wait to get my hands on Broadway Record's release of SIDE SHOW (Original 2104 Broadway Cast Recording) on February 17, 2015. Having seen the show last week, I feel that it is getting a raw deal by closing so early. The score is stunning, and the performances are magnificent. I can only thank the heavens that it's getting a cast recording.