Dig These Discs :: Fallulah, Gaslight Anthem, Betty Buckley, Ramin Karimloo
The dog days of summer demand the soothing sounds that this Dig These Discs column delivers. Check the Broadway standards performed by Betty Buckley, the first full-length album by Fallulah, the New Jersey-licious sounds of Gaslight Anthem, and the soothing sounds of Ramin Karimloo.
"Ah, Men! The Boys of Broadway" (Betty Buckley)
Tony Award-winner and two-time Grammy nominee Betty Buckley launches her latest solo album, reinterpreting 14 classic Broadway songs originally made famous by men. The album was inspired by her critically acclaimed 2011 concert at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in New York City. And the fine treatment she gives each of these standards only serves to cement her reputation as diva sin qua none. She starts off understated with the Tom Jones classic, "I Can See It," from "The Fantasticks," with jazzy piano accompaniment by Christian Jacobs. "I’ve had my way with so many guys," she sings, changing the gender, in "My Defenses Are Down," from "Annie Get Your Gun." Her soft treatment of this song seems miles away from the chauvinistic bent of the original. Less successful, although still a winner, is "Jet Song" from "West Side Story." It is just too difficult to envision Buckley as a dancing, fighting Hell’s Kitchen youth. She does much better with Tony’s ode to love, "Maria," with its wonderfully spare piano orchestration. Listening to Buckley sing, "I just kissed a girl named Maria," is enough to give any lovelorn lesbian chills. Ditto for the lyrics, "I feel you, Johanna!" from the "Sweeney Todd Suite." "I won’t dance, how could I?" sings Buckley in the charming, fast-moving tune from "Roberta." She tackles the story-song "Venice" from "Elegies," singing, "He takes a bite of his rare, delicious lamb chop and says, ’Really Billy, this has got to stop.’ I’d say, ’What’s gotta stop?’ He’d say, ’You’re being a dick’... He’d say, ’We’ve got to go to Venice.’" Buckley also tackles "Guys and Dolls" with a show-stopping "Luck Be a Lady" and the closer, "More I Cannot Wish You." Perhaps the most suitable to Buckley’s chosen oeuvre is the Herculian, "A Hymn to Him" from "My Fair Lady," which finds Buckley singing, "Why can’t a woman be more like a man/ and finally reach for the unreachable star?" As she labels how her rendition of the male leads in every notable Broadway show from "Fiddler on the Roof" to "Guys and Dolls" would be superior, you can’t help but notice that all the good roles go to the fellas. She breaks hearts with her plaintive, "Come Back to Me" from "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever," with lightning-fast ivories by Jacobs. Other tunes that receive her gender-bending treatment include tunes from "Pajama Game," "Pippin" and "La Cage Aux Folles," which is the ultimate gender-blender, as a song sung by a woman, originally sung by a man to another man who is pretending to be a woman. In this innovative take on Broadway standards, Buckley proves that anything he can do, she can do better.
"The Black Cat Neighbourhood" (Fallulah)
With her hit debut single, "I Lay My Head," Danish pop singer/songwriter Maria Apetri, aka Fallulah, drops her first full-length album, "The Black Cat Neighbourhood." Often compared to Florence & The Machine or Bat For Lashes, Fallulah’s style also contains hints of indie rock and Balkan beats, cultivated during her childhood touring with gypsy bands. With the electronic orchestral flourishes found in the hits of the ’80s and high, lilting vocals, she launches into the first track, "Only Human," singing the alienating lyrics, "Don’t come near me, I am only human." In "Hey You," Fallulah screeches, "I’m going somewhere/ I’m leaving you here," while electric guitars ride up and down the scales. She spits out rapid-fire verses in "Bridges," and "Out of It," with a fast-paced clap track keeping the beat. This fast-rap merges with a pop vibe in "You Don’t Care," and the clap track gets paired with hand drums, a la BETTY, in the title track. This rustic drum set is an exception; in "Back and Forth," a drum kit solo announces Fallulah channeling a proto-feminist Riot Girl sound. She goes back to the spitfire quick-rock sound in "New York, You’re My Concrete Lover," singing, "I think this could be love, but I don’t know you that well." In "Use it For Good," she channels Adele, with a touch of this Balkan polka-band vibe in the oom-pah-pah instrumentals, complete with tinny ukulele acoustics. This vibe resurfaces in "Work Song," singing, "you can play the lottery, I can use my hands for prayer...but we’ve got a lot of paying to do." The beloved hook from The Bangles, "Walk Like an Egyptian" powers "I Lay My Head." This ’90s pop rock vibe is carried into "Give Us A Little Love," with Fallulah singing, "Where do we belong, where did we go wrong, if there’s nothing here why are we still here?" The song has a spectral quality, also seen in her slow-moving cut, "Hold Your Horses," as does her haunting closer, "Wailing," complete with glockenspiels. This Danish rock star has a little bit of everything in her 14-track debut album, and although none of these things are just like the other, they all seem to work together just fine.
"Human Heart" (Ramin Karimloo)
Iranian-born Canadian vocalist Ramin Karimloo drops his debut album, "Human Heart," showcasing his huge voice. This performer made a big splash on London’s West End as one of the greatest Phantom’s of all time, in "The Phantom of the Opera," as well as Jean Valjean in Cameron Mackintosh’s West End production of "Phantom of the Opera," for which he received an Olivier Award nomination. There is something larger-than-life about the vocal stylings of stage stars, and Karimloo is no exception. His impassioned delivery of his first track, "Show Me Light," is heartbreaking, as he sings, "you know the face reflected in the glass deserves the love of someone and the warmth of the sun." The album includes covers of some of the songs that made him famous, including the Phantom’s "Music of the Night" and "Til I Hear You Sing" from the sequel, "Love Never Dies." Listen to just a few bars, and you will understand the accolades this stage star has received for this role. He also sings new songs from Ryan Tedder and Greg Wells, who writes for Adele. Karimloo slows things down for "Coming Home," singing that time and distance can never keep him from seeing his lovers face. In the faster-moving track, "Broken Home," the message is similar, as he sings, "You’ve got the smile to take my breath away, you’ve got a truth that touches me, and when you move it’s like time stood still, and you’re dancing just for me." His earnest enunciation of lyrics, combined with the tight arrangement, separates Karimloo from pop singers -- and that is not a bad thing. The closest he comes to pop is a stunning cover of Bryan Adams song, "Everything I Do (I Do It For You)." Karimloo pulls on heartstrings with the slow tunes, Muse’s "Guiding Light," Duncan Sheik’s "Song of the Human Heart" and "Constant Angel." His range is on display in "Inside My World," a heartfelt ballad. He closes the dozen tracks on "Human Heart" with "Cathedrals," a whisper-thin song with lyrics, "In the cathedrals on New York and Rome, there is a feeling that you should just go home and spend a lifetime finding out just where that is." Although this is Karimloo’s debut album, one has a hard time imagining that this young man will ever find a better fit for his majestic voice than this.
(Sony Music Masterworks)
"Handwritten" (Gaslight Anthem)
If the band Gaslight Anthem sounds a bit like Bruce Springsteen on cough syrup, it is no pure twist of fate. The New Brunswick quartet of Brian Fallon, Alex Rasamilia, Alex Levine and Benny Horowitz recently piled into their band and left their home in New Brunswick, New Jersey, headed to Nashville, for five weeks recording time with producer Brendan O’Brien (Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, AC/DC). After three albums of soulful, hearts-on-fire punk rock, the band had split apart to pursue side projects. Re-energized, they came back together to reconnect with rock ’n’ roll in its most feral, pure, stripped-raw form. They emerged with "Handwritten," a collection of 11 blue-collar rock songs that smack of ’70s stadium rock, ’80s hardcore and ’90s grunge, mashed together. "This sounds like a band who has plugged back into the electric socket again," said vocalist Fallon. "I think these songs are the closest thing to what we should have always sounded like," added guitarist Rosamilia. "We just hadn’t figured out yet how to play it right." They credit O’Brien for capturing the album’s raw feel. And in tracks like the opener, "45," with its driving drum beat and electric guitars, this electricity is tangible. Fallon sings passionately about the girl that used to be by his side, "I can’t move on and I can’t stay the same, and all my friends say...I’ll see you on the flipside." The band’s underlying vibe is all Bruce Springsteen, but with more moping in basements than banging on oil cans in your uncle’s auto repair shop, wondering if you’ll get off work in time to take that leggy redhead cruising on Thunder Road. "Pages plead forgiveness, every word handwritten," he spits out in the title track, a catchy rock anthem about mistakes; Fallon has said that, unlike the sweeping themes of the band’s past songs, the tunes on this album were inspired by his own personal experiences. "Here Comes My Man" is his Dear Jane letter to a woman with whom he tried to make things work, but ended up packing his things and leaving. It dovetails nicely with the instrumentals of "Mulholland Drive," which reverses things as Fallon sings the chorus, "Well I’d just die if you ever took your love away." The track "Keepsake" has less mope and a bit more blood in it, with a harder edge and screaming guitar licks. Ditto for "Howl," which begins to come closer to the passion The Boss imbued his hits with. The tone is more upbeat in the harmonic, "Biloxi Parish," singing, "I love you more than I can tell you and when you pass through from this world I hope you ask to take me with you, so I won’t have to wait too long, but until then I’ll be with you through the dark." There is more of a sense of pleading in "Desire," and the following tune, "Mae," is downright sad, with Fallon singing, "we work our fingers down to dust and we wait for kingdom come with the radio on." Gaslight Anthem’s songs all share the same feel, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Back in the day, the Boss was king of all he surveyed, from Asbury Park to Plainfield, New Jersey. So having another working man’s rock and roll outfit to pick up some of the slack is not the worse thing the Garden State could do.