BWW CD Reviews: Asia's Nightingale Returns
After a four-year hiatus from the recording studio--busying herself in commercially successful and critically acclaimed performances and tours in the United States--Asia's Nightingale Lani Misalucha ventures boldly into her latest project as both artist and first-time executive producer in her first album under Star Records, "The Nightingale Returns," co-executive produced by Malou Santos and Roxy Liquigan, and over-all produced by Jonathan Manalo.
Lani single-mindedly takes on an inspiringly ambitious quest covering songs from the greatest Filipino songbook--boasting luminary composers such as Rey Valera, Freddie Aguilar, Willy Cruz, and George Canseco to name a few--much to the clamor and support of adoring fans, which have helped catapult the homecoming album to the top of the local charts and the Philippines's iTunes music store for the past five weeks.
A Victorious Pursuit of Perfection
Undertaking this daunting exploration of the avenue of legendary Filipino classics is a bold artistic expedition, which requires courage, creative insight, and massive talent.
Lani emerges galvanized from this forge with 10 revivals, one original track, and one English song--a pained and solemn interpretation of Natalie Cole's pop classic "Starting Over Again."
In "The Nightingale Returns," Lani solidifies her clout as one of the very few, gifted Filipino performers who possesses a rare dual ability to breathe searing life into interpretations of both Filipino and English songs, all the while harboring an intense veracity to her renditions, matched only by her distinct full-blooded, pulsating vocal temperament.
Purposefully Confident, Masterfully Modern Musical Tribute to the Classics
Spanning an illustrious 18-year career yielding eight studio albums, across three major recording labels, and four live albums, Lani's immaculate vocals in "The Nightingale Returns" reverberates with a new-found temerity, which makes her distinct sound even bolder and more self-assured than it has ever registered before.
A vocalist who can easily convey unbridled depth and lustrous contour with just a singular word or a placating, even plaintive, conversational humming of a simple chord progression, Lani finds surefooted vocal placing throughout this creative endeavor.
The infusion of her own backing vocals into most of the tracks brings a lusher and more subdued sensual viscosity to the overall texture of all the songs' tonalities.
Her almost succulent rendition and effortless vocal acrobatics in the Zsa Zsa Padilla original "Ikaw Lamang" features a panoramic and heady intro showcasing her signature coloratura in a vocal interplay of ultra-high head notes. There are even moments in the song that are reminiscent of the tracks in Minnie Riperton's 1975 album "Adventures in Paradise" and Shanice Wilson's 1991 remake of the Riperton classic "Loving You."
Lani's almost creamy, relaxed intonation and subtlety in delivery in "Ikaw Lamang" coquettishly finds the delicate "G-spot" above the perfectly placed fulcrum of the song, balancing a breathy, almost guttural semi-whisper against a melodious, sensually caressing head tone. Her strategically-placed high-note intervals--akin to whistle notes--accentuated by plush back vocals throughout this song are a direct testimony to the genius behind the brilliant team of vocal and musical arrangers gathered for this offing.
In Freddie Aguilar's "Anak," there is not even a shade of subdued pontification. Lani courageously mounts the landmark song, triumphantly taking on the arduous social and cultural responsibilities that come with the remaking of a song of this magnitude. She treats the piece with a reverential characterization eerily similar to a brilliant theatrical performance. The infinitesimally ephemeral staccato of her weeping vocals during the most tender highs and lows of "Anak" makes for a truly haunting and exquisite production seen even from the farthest seat at the back inside the dark theater of the mind, transforming the song into a religious experience.
The carrier single "Muli," an otherwise laidback vehicle for Lani's full-bodied, powerful range (categorized somewhere between a gorgeous alto and an altitude-defying mezzo soprano) is masterfully turned into a vivaciously texturized, velvety-lush listening experience. The song sensitively soars with a breezy, relaxed lift provided by the tender cadence and rich juxtaposition of the singer's delicate pre-chorus hummings, ushering in the heartfelt main verse of the song. The poignant honesty in her voice fully complements the naked, innocent crescendos of the piano accompaniment throughout the recording, driven to even bolder heights as the reins are taken over by the determined, escalating roars of electric guitar instrumentations during the song's bridge.
Collaborations and Complications
The tracks that showcase Lani's collaborations with other contemporary artists--"May Bukas Pa" (with Yeng Constantino and Angeline Quinto) and "Maging Sino Ka Man" (with Journey frontman Arnel Pineda)--may be considered laudable efforts in bridging the gap between Lani's unique music marque and those of notable singers from other genres and generations.
It comes as no surprise that the theme of a reassuring, unquestioning love heavily featured in Rey Valera's "Maging Sino Ka Man" would work well as a duet. The subtle key transpositions from Arnel's verses to Lani's are magnificently, subtly performed. The smooth chemistry between Lani's and Arnel 's vocals in the song is a musical testament to how two almost polar opposites (both vocal and genre-wise) can defy conformity to a widespread mediocrity in usual artist collaborations. The track's brilliance is almost comparable to that of the Grammy-nominated '90s duet "Up Where We Belong," which also features contrasting vocal and genre styles pairing the raspy, textured vocals of Joe Cocker with the angelic, smooth styling of Jennifer Warnes.
"May Bukas Pa" is a different story, however. Independently, Angeline, Yeng, and Lani's talents are all marvels to behold. However, Lani's singing may be a little too epic, almost too magnanimous for the two young divas to handle. Thus, the track gives off a somehow over-produced and over-orchestrated vibe in perhaps an attempt to manipulate an otherwise should-come-naturally type of chemistry. The miscasting in "May Bukas Pa" is somehow similar to the generation gap that the recording "Missing You" tried to bridge, pooling in the talents of Tamia, Brandy, and Gladys Knight in the tribute song to the late Aaliyah. One knows that a duet or a trio is lacking in certain artistic and/or vocal aspects when the listener wonders how much more powerful the song could have been if there was only one vocalist (the main one) interpreting the song.
Soaring Through the Skies with More Expansive Plumage
The creative team behind the vocal and musical arrangements knows the excising way to explore the unmapped territories of Lani's vocal prowess. "The Nightingale Returns" heavily maximizes Lani's mastery at inflection and vocal drama.
In "Bulag, Pipi, at Bingi," Lani's effortlessly caressing shifts from chest, to head, to full diaphragm is a master class on the seamless interlacing of the distinct harmonious elements of her well-disciplined vocal affectations and her calisthenics' bravura--add to that the mesmerizing arrangements of her coloratura turning simple breaks in-between verses into a spellbinding five-second reverie, and we have the most winning of combinations. In this rendition (and surprisingly, in the other tracks as well) Lani decidedly traverses a rarely explored tundra of vocal dynamism--a previously unconquered territory that lies somewhere between the musical realms of otherworldly vocal queens of ethnic pop, classical, and musical theater backgrounds, almost a tribute to the likes of Anggun, Sarah Brightman, and Kristin Chenoweth, respectively.
Lani's sleek vocals in the Dulce original "Paano Kung Wala Ka Na" are deliciously enveloped within understated distillations of a mesmerizingly soothing blanket of strings--highlighted by a dreamy trickling on ivory keys. Her smoky head tone is pure satin in punctuating the song's challenging high notes. The instrumentation, set against the backdrop of her sinfully desperate melodic plea for survival from a lovelorn affair, is perfectly aligned to the pathos of popular interpretations of other classic torch songs, most notably Olivia Newton John's "Hopelessly Devoted to You" from the hit musical "Grease."
A Creative Tribute to the Pantheon of Classic OPM
By infusing an updated, contemporary appeal into the musical and vocal arrangement of perhaps the most beloved of Filipino standards, "The Nightingale Returns" accomplishes more than just the re-introduction of Original Philippine Music (OPM) to a younger audience. Lani performs a successful transfusion of avant-garde blood into the classic repertoire's veins, proving that true artistic talent has no prescribed shelf life.
In the hands of a lesser artist, these classic songs could have needlessly suffered clichéd, contemporary over-the-top 'riffs and runs-ridden' vocal interpretations, deprived of the regal treatment they truly deserve. In "The Nightingale Returns," it is strikingly evident that the artist took to lengthy pains to carefully conduct a concise analytical study on the multi-dimensional depths of each song.
The architecture of each song brings out a raw, undiluted minstrel, never before heard as intimately cooing and purring as this in her previous albums. She immerses herself in each interpretation without compromising an ounce of vulnerability.
Lani muses in "Gaano Kadalas Ang Minsan"; painfully pleads in "Paano Kung Wala Ka Na"; persuades in "Tayong Dalawa"; pledges in "Muli"; seduces in "Ikaw Lamang"; philosophizes in "Bulag, Pipi, at Bingi"; and moralizes in "Anak."
"The Nightingale Returns" is leaps and bounds and miles ahead of the typical perfunctory revival album. It is a virtuoso performance deserving of multiple curtain calls.
Download the album on iTunes.