Monday, January 25, 2016

Alyson Cambridge"s Crossover Album "Until Now"

This article was first published at Blogcritics"

Operatic soprano Alyson Cambridge’s Until Now released earlier this month has the powerful vocalist shifting gears from the classical repertoire to explore some of the more pop musical genres. In a 13-song album that could well serve as a supper club set, Cambridge, a singer who has graced the stages of opera houses like The Met and London’s Royal Albert Hall, makes clear that she has the range certainly to crossover to the Broadway stage and maybe even a smoky jazz room.

As she says in her liner notes: “My hope for the album has always been to give an eclectic and thoughtful representation of me, in a range of non-operatic musical tastes, influences and vocalism. It truly is a side of me and my voice that I have never shared until now.” For the most part she has chosen songs that have special meaning for her. And while most of them allow her to show her range effectively, there are a few, like “Fever” which opens the album, which are less well served by the beauty of her voice, songs which could use more grit and less perfection. “Bill” from Showboat, on the other hand shows Cambridge at the top of her game.

The album includes classics like “Night and Day,” “The Man I Love” (complete with verse), and “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and pop pieces like the covers of The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” and Vanessa Williams’ “Save the Best for Last,” which appropriately closes the album. There is a steamy version of “Too Darn Hot” and a very effective sultry blues take on “I Had Myself a True Love.” “Just Another Rhumba” and a catchy arrangement of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” provide some novelty relief, and she does a unique take on the old Elvis Presley hit, “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

All in all, if, as Cambridge concludes her liner notes, the album “feels like just the beginning of a new musical and performance journey,” it is a journey worth taking—worth taking just so long as she doesn’t forget Puccini. Check out her “Vissi d’arte.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Book Review: "The Whites" by Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt

This article was first published at Blogcritics

The Whites, Richard Price’s 2015 novel written under the pseudonym Harry Brandt is scheduled for reissue as a trade paperback by Picador in February. Price, much lauded for novels like Clockers and Lush Life as well as his work on HBO’s The Wire, explains in interviews that he chose to write under a pseudonym because he intended the book to be a departure from what he normally wrote, much perhaps like J. K. Rowling choosing to write her adult mysteries as Robert Galbraith. Only then to discover that old saw about leopards and spots, and as far as Price enthusiasts certainly a good thing.

If The Whites is not Price at his best, it is not far off. What distinguishes him from the run of the mill thriller writer, is his ability to tell a compelling story that keeps pages turning while at the same time making serious comment on the human condition. He draws his characters honestly and in depth avoiding comic book heroes and villains. Good people have their flaws, evil their sympathetic moments. Right and wrong are not always immediately distinguishable, and ordinary human beings are forced to make difficult ethical choices. Moreover, he deals with these larger ideas in a prose style that crackles with a drama that often rises to elegance. Richard Price should never be brushed aside as a genre writer, Richard Price is a novelist of stature and deserves consideration.

This time out he is concerned, Melville-like, with characters obsessed with vengeance. The Whites of the is the term police officers use to refer to criminals they are certain are guilty, but whom they are unable to get the evidence necessary to convict. They are their modern day white whales.
Back in the day Billy Graves worked with a hot shot anti-crime squad in the Bronx, but after he accidently shoots a ten year old boy under questionable circumstances, he has been shunted out of the way and is now in charge of Manhattan Night Watch a crew that seems set up to mind the store at night until the big boys get on the job. The other members of his old squad have all gone their separate ways, but they have remained friends and meet together regularly. Each, it turns out has their own “white,” and when the “whites” begin turning up dead, Billy is faced with his moral dilemma. A dilemma made even more complicated by an unknown attacker threatening his family.

The Whites is a book you will not want to put down until you reach the final page.