Recordings | Nov. 20, 2014

Three albums we're listening to this month

By Cait Brennan, Nov. 20, 2014.

Kristin Chenoweth | Coming Home | Concord Records | 4stars

Kristin Chenoweth has graced the stage for years, but she’s never graced us with a proper live album Kristenuntil now. Recorded in her hometown of Broken Arrow, Okla., (at the Kristin Chenoweth Theater, no less), this career-spanning collection of pop, folk and Broadway favorites crackles with the sparkling wit, good humor and boundless energy of her stage performances.

“I Could Have Danced All Night” starts it off, and truer words were never sung. Chenoweth offers up strong new versions of “For Good” and “Popular” from Wicked, and visits other Broadway showstoppers along the way, including “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables and “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” from Phantom of the Opera. It’s not all show tunes, though; Chenoweth does a particularly lovely version of Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow,” digs back into the 19th century for Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More” and digs out a totally left-field take on the Barbra Streisand/Donna Summer’s disco duet “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough).”

If it seems like Chenoweth is bringing an extra layer of emotion here, she is. The entire performance was recorded in front of an audience that included family and lifelong friends, and that added resonance packs a wallop. The concert was also filmed for broadcast on PBS in late November as well as release on DVD.

Misterwives | Reflections EP | PhotoFinish Records | 3halfstars

Misterwives’ Mandy Lee’s powerhouse voice will smack you around and make you like it. Lee and MisterWives-Reflectionscohorts Etienne Bowler and Will Hehir make up the core of Misterwives (a play on “sisterwives”), and though they’ve been together only a little over a year, their indie pop/dance/ska sound has already earned them a substantial fan base. Their energetic and fun six-song debut, Reflections, is likely to build on that considerably.

The title track is an irresistible indie dance stomper, with Lee’s soaring voice over a killer beat and (though, let’s face it, a little bit incomprehensible) chorus. Better still, though, is “Kings and Queens,” with Lee spouting mile-a-minute staccato lyrics over gorgeous analog synth riffs and great rhythm breaks. 

The EP showcases some nice downtempo material too, like the elegiac “Coffins” and the chanting, swirling “Imagination Infatuation.” Lee, who studied songwriting and opera at a specialized performing arts school growing up, puts both skills to work, to great effect.

Misterwives’ full-length album is in the works, but for now, with its joyous melodies and great vocals, Reflections is the perfect thing to keep the seasonal blues away.

Aretha Franklin | Sings The Great Diva Classics | RCA | 3halfstars

She’s the original Queen of Soul, but it’s been a while since Aretha Franklin truly contended for the aretha-franklinthrone. Backed by some major-league talent, Franklin has returned to make her mark on a set of all-time classics originally made famous by other female divas, from Streisand to Beyoncé. The results are mixed: often surprising, sometimes great, and occasionally a little awkward, but they prove Franklin’s still got the pipes — and the guts — to take on the world.

Produced by legendary music impresario Clive Davis, Diva Classics kicks off with a faithful reading of Etta James’ “At Last,” before Franklin digs in to a fierce, fiery take on Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep.” Aretha circa ‘72 would have crushed it, but Aretha at age 72 can’t quite get it. Still, you have to admire the nerve, and a cool interpolation of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” adds bonus fun to the mix. That playfulness pays off again with a mashup of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor”

Perhaps most unusual is Franklin’s cover of the Prince-penned Sinead O’Connor hit “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Franklin swings it like a hot jazz number, frenetic and wild; surely his Royal Badness will be smiling. A legendary lifetime has taken its toll on her voice, but she’s still got the power to work it, and with a playlist that would be at home in any diva’s lineup, it’s a welcome return from one of music’s greatest voices.