Given the number of 'classic' Broadway songs that have issued from his pen, it is amazing that Maury Yeston has only written two full Broadway shows (Nine and Titanic) plus songs for a third as 'show doctor' (Grand Hotel), and has only one other widely done regional show (Phantom). Toss in a song cycle (the Schubert Die Winterreise inspired December Songs, which was commissioned for Carnegie Hall's centennial), a show that has had perhaps more title changes than productions (the currently entitled In the Beginning) and a smattering of pop songs (including the top 40 hit, "Till I Loved You," from Goya: A Life in Song) and you have a career that rivals William Finn in terms of a quality to quantity ratio.
PS Classics celebrates Yeston's songs in The Maury Yeston Songbook , an album that presents 20 of Yeston's songs performed by stars of Broadway and cabaret. While a few of the performer/song pairings don't quite live up to the memory of the originals (which, admittedly, is hard to do in some cases, as a number of the songs have become identified very strongly with specific performers, or more importantly, specific iconoclastic voices), there is nothing embarrassing or wrong on the disc and there is a lot that is beautifully right.
Alice Ripley starts the album with an evocative rendition of the deceptively simple yet emotionally complex "Please Let's Not Even Say Hello" from December Songs. She is, however, less successful with "A Call From the Vatican" (Nine), which does not quite fit her vocal or emotional register. Brent Barrett gives lovely performances of "Only With You" (Nine) and a beautifully tender "New Words" (the one song from In the Beginning to have achieved any sort of 'break-out' status). Betty Buckley gives her powerhouse all to "Be On Your Own (Nine), which is as oddly effective as it is over-the-top, and displays her storytelling best on "I Had a Dream About You" (December Songs). Liz Callaway delivers perhaps the best interpretation of "Simple" from Nine that I have heard, as the song perfectly fits her voice and the simplicity of her delivery and John McDaniel's piano arrangement are simply superb. Brian d'Arcy James likewise scores with an understated interpretation of "Unusual Way" (also from Nine).
The true highlights of the album, however, are its obscure songs. Three numbers from Yeston's non-theatrical trunk make for especially welcome additions: Laura Benanti (currently in the Broadway revival of Nine) shines in an almost Jerome Kern sounding "Now and Then" and Johnny Rodgers is equally effective on the melancholic "Danglin'," which more than a little recalls James Taylor in terms of performance and material. "Another Day in the Modern World" (performed by Michael Holland) is an intriguing hybrid of Yeston's pop and theater sensibilities. Equally thrilling are two songs from In the Beginning, which, I believe, are premier recordings: Eden Espinosa soars on" Is Someone Out There?," a number that acts as an emotional counterpoint to "The Spark of Creation" from Stephen Schwartz's similarly themed musical, Children of Eden, and "You're There Too," sung by Christopher Fitzgerald, a charming love song that ranks among Yeston's strongest numbers with its deceptively intimate look at a relationship.
Another writer with a high ratio of quality of material vs. quantity of written shows is Jason Robert Brown, whose songs have been focused upon by Lauren Kennedy on her first solo album, appropriately entitled Lauren Kennedy: Songs of Jason Robert Brown . Kennedy appeared in the Chicago production of Brown's The Last Five Years but was unable to participate in its Off Broadway transfer as Trevor Nunn whisked her off to London to star in his production of South Pacific. Happily, three of The Last 5 Years' numbers appear on this disc: "Goodbye Until Tomorrow," "I Can Do Better Than That," and "When You Come Home to Me" (the latter being a throwaway audition number in the show, turned into a Johnny Mathis 'big band' number for the disc). The album also contains three songs from Songs for a New World: "Christmas Lullaby" (turned into a quasi country song with a haunting mandolin part), "Flying Home," and "I'd Give it All for You" (sung as a duet with Jason Robert Brown, who is perhaps the best interpreter of his own works). Not too surprisingly, there is only one number from Parade on the album: "Pretty Music," which has been rewritten lyrically and musically into a Dixieland number.
The real treat on the album (aside from Kennedy's clear, charming vocals) is the inclusion of four premier recordings. "And I Will Follow," the only number written for an aborted adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost, makes its U.S. premiere here and is a driving song that would have been right at home in The Last 5 Years. "Dreaming Wide Awake," written for a 'yet to be revealed' musical, is a soaring anthem perfectly delivered by Kennedy. "Letting You Go" represents a surprising departure for Brown as it is a simple, unadorned introspective number that is incredibly powerful, especially with Kennedy's understated delivery. A similar number, "If I Told You Now," a song that was nominated for a MAC Award this year for Best Song (and surprisingly enough lost), is my favorite number on the disc, with its tender, haunting examination of a doomed relationship.
Recorded live at the 2econd Stage Theater and Joe's Pub, Put a Little Love in Your Mouth features the songs of Amanda Green, who is joined by a host of guests, including Mary Testa (who is amazing in the driving, bluesy "Bury Me Standing"), Billy Stritch, Mario Cantone and Jonathan Dukochitz. Amanda is perhaps best known for her comic material, thanks to numbers like "The V Song" (a list song detailing every known and obscure pseudonym for the female genitalia) and her MAC winning number, "Every Time a Friend Succeeds" (a country flavored number about the true force behind "Every Day a Little Death"). However, on her album, Put a Little Love in Your Mouth, it is the ballads that demonstrate Green's surprisingly emotional strength as a lyricist, thanks to numbers like "A Ladies Man" (written with John Bucchino and performed with the wonderful Jessica Molaskey) and "Daddy's Shoulders" (an alternately heartwarming/heartrending number with music by Ned Ginsberg, made all the more touching with the recent loss of Amanda's father, Broadway legend Adolph Green).
Tribute albums are a tricky medium to get right, as one not only has to live up to the subject, but the performer has to shine and make what is usually highly familiar material fresh in the process. Karen Oberlin does all this and more with Secret Love: The Music of Doris Day, a winning look at numbers made famous by one of music's most underrated performers.
Without ever recalling Doris Day vocally, Oberlin possesses the characteristics present in that iconoclastic singer: a clear voice refreshingly free of ornamentation that delivers each song with vocal purity and emotional honesty. Straddling the fence between jazz and traditional cabaret (thanks, in no small part, to music director Ted Firth's delightfully breezy arrangements), Oberlin treats each number with the care of a master jeweler handling a fine gem. Highlights include a gently knowing "Nobody's Heart," a swinging rarity "Tulip or Turnip," and a wistful "We'll be Together Again," although there is not a weak track in the lot.
I have been a fan of French chanteuse Patricia Kaas ever since a German friend sent me a compilation tape that contained a few of her numbers. Kaas has released a largely English language album, Piano Bar, which gives a number of traditional French cabaret tunes a fresh Euro-techno spin ala the various Buddha Bar CDs. The album, produced by Michel Legrand (who wrote several of the songs featured on the CD), features wonderfully atmospheric, hypnotic reinterpreting of such classic numbers as "A Man and a Woman/ Un Homme Et Une Femme," "The Summer Knows," "If You Go Away," and "The Windmills of Your Mind" (performed in French as "Les Moulins De Mon Coeur").