Monday, February 21, 2011
Music Review: Alice Ripley-Daily Practice, Vol. I
This article was first published at Blogcritics
Alice Ripley, winner of the 2009 Tony Award for the Best Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of the bipolar Diana Goodman in Next to Normal, is now out with a ten song collection of covers of some of her favorite rock music called Daily Practice, Volume I. The title, she explains, comes from her habit of winding down in her room after her demanding stage performances with her acoustic guitar and some of best loved songs. It is as though she were able to transfer all of the dramatic intensity bottled up in the interpretation of her character to the music. These are covers like you've not heard before. If you are looking for something pleasant to wile a way an hour, these aren't for you. If you are looking for lavish production values, look elsewhere. If you are looking for naked passion, you've come to the right place. There is a voice. There is a guitar. And above all there is passion.
The songs she has chosen are not only her favorites; if you are a lover of rock, many of them are your favorites as well. The album opens with a standout performance of Carole King's "It's Too Late." In Carly Simon's "Anticipation," her focus is on the present moment, when one can never be sure about the future. These are, after all as she cuts off abruptly, "the good old days." REM's "Everybody Hurts" is a rich vocal with perhaps a few echoes of the original. Sting's "Message in a Bottle" is an emphatic plea with a driving chorus. Her voice becomes an insistent cry. Lucinda Williams' "Essence" is a power ballad delivered full throttle with little of the bluesy feel of the original, but with all of its passion. She transforms Nanci Griffith's wispy version of "The Flyer" into a haunting memory with the power of her vocal. Ripley is at her most intense in the cover of Alanis Morissette's ranting tirade "You Oughta Know." It is a vocal filled with bitterness of betrayal and shame.
Her covers of The Eagles' "Take it Easy" and U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" are fine, but somehow they don't quite have the same vitality as the others. I do have some question however about her take on Springsteen's "Thunder Road." Shrewdly she makes no attempt to out-boss the Boss. Instead there is something almost breathless about her performance. It is as though she can barely get through the lyrics. I would imagine, accomplished actress that she is, she has created a character, and is singing in the voice of that character. I guess my problem is that I am so tuned to Springsteen's voice that any other seems wrong. It's not that she doesn't create voices in the other songs on the album, unquestionably she does. It's simply that the other voices seem more in touch with material. Or, maybe, if you're going to cover an iconic performance of an iconic song, you had better be a Hawaiian with a ukulele.
The talented Miss Ripley (with apologies to Patricia Highsmith) may have been using this music as a form of therapy, but her decision to collect it all on an album gives the rest of us an opportunity to hear what a first rate artist can do with some of the music she and we all love. You may not like what she does with every song on the album, but there is no way you won't find something new in songs that you've heard many times, something that may push your buttons, but something to remind you why you loved these songs in the first place.