Dig These Discs :: Sarah Brightman, Fantasia, Jessie Ware, Michael Buble, Joshua Radin
Michael Bublé's new album reached the top of the Billboard 200 picks, while Billboard runner-up Fantasia (an "American Idol" winner) drops a new collection of dramatic, infectious hits. Enjoy the classical soprano stylings of Sarah Brightman, and the laid-back feel of Jessie Ware's tempered bits. Sit back and relax into Joshua Radin's harmonious guitar licks, because this week's edition of Dig These Discs starts slow, and ratchets up the heat!
"To Be Loved" (Michael Bublé)
Michael Bublé takes the top of the Billboard 200 chart this week (with Fantasia’s newest release in the runner-up slot) with his hot new album, which has already sold 195,000 copies. This mild-mannered Canadian (is there any other kind?) has shown with his sixth studio album (and fourth number one record) that he is talented, and via stints on "Saturday Night Live" that he is funny (Hamm and Bublé, anyone?). The album is a mix of 10 standards, plus four original songs written by Bublé. "My new record is about love, happiness, fun and yummy things," wrote Bublé in his press notes. "Getting to work with my friend and longtime collaborator Bob Rock who produced the entire album was very exciting. We’re a good team. I love the songs we selected this time out. It was also terrific working once again with my songwriting partners." Among these original songs are the bouncy, upbeat "It’s a Beautiful Day," the heartfelt "I Got It Easy" and "After All," featuring fellow Canadian Bryan Adams, who gives the song some of his pop shine. Bublé is one of the most talented crooners of our time, and he starts out with the Frank Sinatra classic "You Make Me Feel So Young," and gives it the same deep, jazzy swing that Ol’ Blue Eyes had. He also tries his hand with Sinatra’s cha-cha-cha, Latin-infused "Come Dance With Me!" Bublé tackles classics like the Bee Gees hit, "To Love Somebody," which is imbued with the rootsy, funky feel of the ’70s. Other classics from that era include the Jackson 5’s "Who’s Loving You," and Jackie Wilson’s "To Be Loved." Although it’s initially odd to hear Bublé singing pop songs rather than his usual set of standards, he does a good job with them. He goes even further back into the rock archives, and gives his own spin to Dean Martin’s "Nevertheless (I’m In Love With You)," performed with help from the Puppini Sisters, and the Elvis Presley classic "Have I Told You Lately." He swings in Randy Newman’s "You’ve Got a Friend in Me," and croons in "Close Your Eyes," singing, "You’re an angel dressed in armor, you’re the fair in every fight/ You’re my life and my safe harbor, where the sun sets every night." Bublé teams up with actress Reese Witherspoon for a slightly off-key duet of the classic Frank and Nancy Sinatra song, "Something Stupid," and again with Naturally 7 for "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You." If Bublé can make this tired old chestnut sound fresh and new, there’s nothing he can’t do.
"Side Effects of You" (Fantasia)
No one could ever accuse Fantasia Barrino of being lackluster. In this new collection of 13 tracks, the talented "American Idol" winner brings on the drama from the very beginning, with the intro track, "Supernatural Love." "You’ll be like seeing the sun for the first time, like I just did hard time...you make my problems disappear." Big K.R.I.T. provides a nice call and response as he takes over, giving a pleasing balance to this aggressively produced song. Fantasia shows her R&B chops in "Ain’t All Bad," the snappy, percussive "Get It Right" the James Bond-like "End of Me" and the closing track, "In Deep," which is studded with delightful electro samples. She goes to a softer, early Nelly Furtado feel with the wistful, retro "If I Was a Bird," and sounds almost as though she’s taken a page out of Sarah McLaughlin’s moody songbook in "Side Effects of You," about suffering the withdrawals of losing love. Her "Girl Talk (Interlude)" is a funny spoken-word break with Kelly Rowland and Missy Elliott, meshing into the gospel-inspired intro for "Without Me." She turns these niceties on their head with the actual track, which is dark and slyly witty, as she sings to her man, "You really gonna make me expose you for exactly what you are?/ As hard as you try to hide reality, you know the truth...what would you be without me?" Some songs don’t quite hit their mark, such as "So Much to Prove," and the slightly discordant "Change Your Mind." But there are surprises in the bunch, like the witty rap track, "Lighthouse," where Fantasia mouths off to the haters, singing, "I always tell the truth, I can take the stand/ Take a bullet for you, Superman." And "Lose to Win" has a moody ’90s vibe to it, like a soulful Lionel Richie track. Fantasia teamed up with producers Harmony Samuels and Jerry Wonda for her fourth studio album, saying, "Of course, the pressure is always on to give the fans more of Fantasia and to allow them to see my growth. This time around, I have more creative input and am writing a lot. I think everyone will be quite pleased with where I am going this go round." Unlike her 2010 "Back to Me," where Fantasia struggled to find her brand, "Side Effects" is a surprisingly sincere, if sometimes uneven, album.
"Dreamchaser" (Sarah Brightman)
Classical English crossover soprano Sarah Brightman releases her new album "Dreamchaser" to critical acclaim. Triple-threat Brightman is a singer/songwriter, actor and dancer with deep roots in theater, including a marriage in the ’80s to composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. A skilled singer in many languages, including English, Spanish, French, Latin, German, Italian, Mandarin, Japanese and Occitan, Brightman has hits across the globe. She has sung at the Barcelona Olympics, gone four times platinum in the Netherlands, starred in Italian and German foreign films, and even released a Middle Eastern-themed album. She launches her new album with the single "Angel." Windswept sound effects morph into a tight string composition, with Brightman’s high, operatic voice singing, "I am your shadow, I am your rain, I am your longing, a little of your pain." The slow song is a good vehicle for her to show off her impressive vocal chops. Overlapping vocal effects are layered, creating the impression of a crowd of gossips wagging their tongues, and then moving into a more orderly harmonizing. The result sounds as if "Angel" was produced with a major motion picture soundtrack in mind. She follows it with the affable "One Day Like This," singing, "It’s looking like a beautiful day," with a chorus joining in with the harmony about a third of the way through. In "Glosoli," Brightman sings fine and high, with a very spare instrumental arrangement at first, then building as she croons, "And here you are/ now I have found you, it’s time to say goodnight/ How can I reach you when you have passed me by?" She demonstrates her mastery of classical work with her operatic rendition of "Lento E Largo From Symphony No. 2 Op. 36" and a superb, stylized rendition of "Ave Maria." She brings a more louche feel -- think Astrid Gilberto’s "Corcovado" -- to "B 612," an intriguing little song with Latin undertones. Her percussionist gets great kudos for the outro work. Brightman gets closest to pop with "Breathe Me," singing out invitations of friendship in a high patter that could be mistaken for that of a Disney princess. The string work at the end of this song is phenomenal. She moves her voice up and down the scale in the fast-paced, lilting "Eperdu," and uses strings and chimes to make the base for the stunning foreign-language track, "A Song of India." "Come away on a strange vacation, holiday has hardly begun," she sings in "Venus and Mars," finishing the album up with another ethereal tune. Brightman is a very talented artist, and her music is fine and metered, but meant for discerning listeners. She recently announced plans to visit the International Space Station, where she hopes to become the first performing artist to sing in space. Let’s hope the aliens have good taste!
"Devotion" (Jessie Ware)
British singer/songwriter Jessica Ware has been called "the missing link between Adele, SBTRKT and Sade," but truth told, until last year, she was living with her mother and taking on backup singer gigs. It hardly matters, though, as Ware presents a strong voice and good taste. Her catchy, drum-fueled 2012 single "Wildest Moments" peaked at 46 on the UK charts, which has already embraced this new album, hitting number five when it first came out, eight months ago. (A bonus track includes a banging remix featuring New York fashionista/rapper A$AP Rocky). Now, "Devotion" hits the U.S., retooled with four bonus tracks and one track ("110%") altered due to legal complications over use of Big Punisher’s sample. The album is comprised of textured, groove-focused beats focused on Ware’s voice, words and songs. The title track blends chimes and electronic bass to create a lounge-music song with the lyrics, "Need your devotion/ Don’t leave me in the dark, don’t leave me this way, because nothing makes sense today." Ware shows great restraint in her music; her R&B influenced single "Running" is equally reserved, in no particular rush to unwind. "Still Love Me" and "Who Says No," with its glazed-over male vocals, hearken back to the early Pointer Sisters tracks -- jazzy, sexy and slow. Her single "Night Light" is a catchy song that manages to be profound, despite pedestrian lyrics. "Sweet Talk" gives a shout-out to Ware’s pop heroes from the ’80s and ’90s, and "Imagine It Was Us" is a danceable track, hearkening back to Michael Jackson’s hits. And "If You’re Never Gonna Move," (formerly Big Punisher’s sampling for "110%") impressively blends electronic and funk with a fast moving rap feel, with the "dancing on my own," lyrics. Her voice soars in "Taking In Water" and "Imagine It Was Us" is a respectable pop tune. Gird your loins, U.S. fans; Ware is spending 2013 on a tour in the UK, hitting Cambridge, Manchester, Glasgow and other cities before ending up in London.
(Cherry Tree Records)
"Wax Wings" (Joshua Radin)
Guitar-playing songwriter Joshua Radin builds upon his decade of success with his fifth studio album, "Wax Wings." The self-released album features 11 tracks, including the popular iTunes single, "Lovely Tonight," which sounds like a 2.0, modernized version of Eric Clapton’s "Wonderful Tonight." This is easy listening for the modern set, as Radin strums and croons innocuous acoustic hits with lyrics like, "I’m with you forever, you’re the only one, and we’ve just begun." His opening track, "Beautiful," starts things rolling as he sings optimistically, "I’m gonna climb that hill behind my house, see what this place is all about, cause from above it all you can’t help but say, it’s gonna be a beautiful day." He promises to be your shelter in "Your Rainy Days," and wants his clothes to smell like you do in "Like They Used To," singing, "I had wax wings and I flew too close to you, now I’m falling, remembering why I missed you." Radin has made a name for himself as the soundtrack behind popular TV series like "Scrubs," "Grey’s Anatomy," "American Idol," "One Tree Hill" and "Brothers and Sisters." He also played a set during Ellen DeGeneres’ and Portia de Rossi’s wedding. In the face of such commercial success, it hardly seems right to offer criticism, but truth told, Radin’s voice is spectacularly ordinary, and his songs terribly predictable and pedestrian. He goes a bit deeper in the melancholy tune, "Cross That Line," allowing his voice to reach a vulnerable, quaking timbre. But most of the songs blend seamlessly into each other, a mélange of acoustic licks tempered with piano accompaniment, lovely and unremarkable. It’s the perfect CD for a long car ride across the Plains states, settling and lazy, and enough the same to pass an hour without any surprises. Producer Matt Noveskey lends a hand on "In Her Eyes" and "Stay," which end up all the smoother for it. Radin finishes up with "My My Love," which allows him to flex his lower registers, his deep voice thrumming. He will undoubtedly have solid commercial success with "Wax Wings," but he certainly won’t rattle any cages with this collection of lukewarm love songs.