Sound Advice by Joseph Molnar

Right on the heels of September's greatest hits album, Betty Buckley has released Heart to Heart, which marks the first release from KO Records, co-owned by Kevin Duncan and Ms. Buckley.

Her latest disc forgoes the usual bravura arias and booming showstoppers in favor of a much more serene, intimate lineup. Accompanied solely by her long-time pianist Kenny Werner, each song comes across as if a delicate whisper, and I mean that in the most flattering sense. Ms. Buckley and Mr. Werner weave an intoxicating blend of classic folk songs, showtunes, and romantic art songs that never fails to arouse the emotions. Be it understated melancholy or childlike wonder, it seems that there isn't a single emotion Ms. Buckley can't handle. Not only that, but she handles them with the utmost ardor and conviction, a talent that some stars would all but kill for.

Betty deftly wraps her silvery vocals around some real classics including "Danny Boy," "Anyone Can Whistle," and "Just the Way You Look Tonight." Her heartbreaking rendition of Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine" certainly ranks as one of the best in recent memory. Also, two songs from last year's production of Tennessee Williams' Camino Real at the Hartford Stage are present on the disc: "Violets" and "Bide-a-While," featuring Blaise James on guitar. The original literary text has been set to original music, and I must say that it works surprisingly well.

Audra McDonald's debut album Way Back to Paradise proved to be a worthy debut album, prominently showcasing some rather avant garde work from Michael John LaChiusa, Adam Guettel, and others from the community of "new theatre" composers. While it was an interesting concept, I will have to admit that it didn't get much play time on my CD player. However, with her latest album, How Glory Goes, Audra has given us what is sure to be one of the best recordings of the year.

I can quite honestly say that there is not a single track I do not enjoy on this disc. The many highlights include Ahrens and Flaherty's priceless "Come Down from the Tree," cut from Once on This Island, "Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home," "The Man That Got Away," "Bill," and my personal favorite "I Had Myself a True Love." The works of Harold Arlen, Truman Capote, Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Adam Guettel (who contributes the title track), Jeanine Tesori, and other classic and up-and-coming artists are featured in top form. Audra's golden mezzo-soprano embraces each piece perfectly, and the eclectic mix of songs gives her ample room to stretch her wide emotional range.

Nearly five dozen musicians are featured throughout the disc, and the ample orchestra provides excellent accompaniment. I can only hope that this hit can ensure a long and productive relationship between Nonesuch Records and Ms. McDonald, quite possibly Broadway's grandest lady.

It seems that every year there is at least one unexpected show that somehow manages to transfer to Broadway. This season it was the now-deceased Squonk, and last season it was It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues , a musical history of the blues traced from early African tribal music to the modern sounds of BB King and Taj Mahal. After transferring to the Vivian Beaumont just in time for the Tonys, Blues managed to bump Footloose for a ‘Best Musical' nod, and it finally ended its Broadway run January 9 at the Ambassador Theatre. The cast recording was recently released on MCA/Morling Manor Records.

Despite featuring an impressive and lively cast of fantastic blues artists and Broadway folks (including Showboat's Gretha Boston), Blues never really gets off the ground. The lineup includes such better-known tunes as "Let the Good Times Roll," "Sweet Home Chicago," and "Members Only," all of which occur in the second half of the recording. And therein lies the problem. The first quarter or so of the disc is dedicated to the earliest of blues music, mainly of the Negro spiritual vein. While this works fine in keeping with the historical order of the music, these songs just don't come off well on disc. The disc begins to gather a little steam in the second act, but even then, there is little to get excited over.

This Enhanced CD features commentary by Whoopi Goldberg and Taj Mahal, along with a slide show of historical photos and news items. Overall, this is one disc that could easily be passed up.

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