Man-Oh-Manilow

Not everyone can keep a career going for fifty years. Desk workers get bored, factory workers get sold out, artists get stuck in a groove and lose inspiration (et tu, Thomas Kincade?) Musicians are not immune, either – anyone remember a recent hit song by Rupert Holmes, B.J. Thomas, or Debby Boone?

Thought so.

Some talents, however, can’t be squashed. Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Robert Plant, and Tom Petty are just a few of the extremely talented musicians who are still pumping out music in various new forms, rock, classical, jazz, or folk, after more than fifty years.

So is Barry Manilow.

Barry Manilow first hit the charts forty-four years ago. An easy two generations. And with his latest album This is My Town: Songs of New York, Manilow shows he’s still at the top of his game.

Sure. Manilow isn’t for everyone. Say his name and images of white disco suits, sunshiny bright smiles, and Dr. Pepper come to mind (Manilow wrote or sang the hottest 70’s jingles for Dr. Pepper, McDonald’s, Band Aids, and more). Say you’re a Manilow fan and people smile politely and take a step sideways. But whether you like him or not, he’s a musical powerhouse.

In This is My Town, Manilow gives tribute to New York City. Maybe it’s refinement, maybe it’s age – he’s now 74, but his voice has gained a maturity, a deeper tenor that says he’s in command and making a hit is easier than crossing a New York City street. The album is short – just ten songs – and contains a variety of styles.  The first track, This is My Town, is breathtaking, a huge, glorious, Broadway-esque song that begs to be turned into an entire musical. Unfortunately, putting your best first means the rest of the album tends to fade.

Not that the tracks are bad; they just aren’t my style. Manilow drops into several tracks of smooth jazz, more in line with a Las Vegas lounge act than a hot New York club scene. While Manilow is no Petula Clark, his mashup of “Downtown/Uptown” is quite likeable. My only issue with the closing track of “NYC Medley” is that he starts with a cut of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind”; I wish he’d sung the entire song. He does end with a vibrant rendition of “New York, New York,” which is both fitting and energizing, reminding  you exactly why he is so popular.

Listen to it, even just for the first track. Barry, team up with a good playwright, and get that song made into a musical. It needs it. If you like smooth jazz, Broadway, cheerful music that is easy on the ear, New York City, or even just Barry Manilow, this is an album you won’t want to miss.

Which brings up the question – can Manilow write a song that isn’t upbeat? Sure, Could it Be Magic is in a minor key, and Mandy isn’t exactly a cheerleading tune (replace Tony Basil’s Mickey with Mandy?), but it’s not a throw-yourself-in-the-grave tearjerker like Goldsboro’s Honey or Clapton’s Tears in Heaven (written on the death of his five year old son). Chase Holfelder’s a musician who takes upbeat songs (like Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, or Disney’s Kiss the Girl), works them in a minor key, and turns them into haunting pop tracks. Maybe Manilow should be the next thing he tackles.

May Music

More than sixty new CD albums have been added to CPL’s music collection in the last month alone! Here’s a few highlights of things you shouldn’t overlook:

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81Xe6zj4unL._SX425_If you didn’t get your fill on the first two volumes of Songs of Anarchy, the fabulous soundtrack to the TV series Sons of Anarchy, volumes Three and Four are here, and are they ever beautiful! Do not miss Maggie Siff’s heartbreakingly gorgeous a capella rendition of “Lullaby for a Soldier,” or if you’re in a more upbeat mood, “Love is My Religion.” “Dock of the Bay” is a rendition worthy of Otis Redding himself. On Four, be dazzled by an off-beat and wild version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that will stick in your head. “Aquarius” is catchy, and Katey Sagal’s updated “Greensleeves” remains touching. While the albums are utterly delightful71G6L0Sox0L._SX425_ on their own, each covering a wide variety of musical styles (Joshua James’s “Crash This Train” is sublime), at times it is gut-wrenching to hear them, if you know the context from the show in which each song is played. I cannot recommend the four albums enough.

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If you’re into something completely different, give Grammy Award winner Tom Paxton’s new album Redemption Road a try. Paxton is old-style folk; not quite country, not quite bluegrass, not quite modern, but it is music indexthe entire family can enjoy without having to worry about language or content. He is Raffi, for grown-ups, and if you can’t imagine that, then check out his song “Skeeters’ll Gitcha.” Like a true folk singer, his songs are observations about humanity and the absurdities of modern culture. “If the Poor Don’t Matter” is a haunting tune in the best tradition of folk music. “If the poor don’t matter, then neither do I.” If you like calm, soothing music that’s worth singing to without being overpowered by loud orchestration, if you like music that feels as if you’re sitting around a campfire and the guitar is playing just for you, you’ll enjoy this album.

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A third album you don’t want to overlook is Rhiannon Giddens first solo foray, Tomorrow is My Turn.index You last heard Giddens as the lead singer for the Carolina Chocolate Drops, where she wowed listeners with her pure tones and perfect pitch. Here she takes center stage in what isn’t so much an album as a resumé. Each song is different, from folk to blues to country to more popular beats such as Dolly Parton’s “Don’t Let it Trouble Your Mind,” and the easy-listening vibes of “Tomorrow is My Turn.” It’s not an album to blow you away, but a solid repertoire that says “Here’s what I can do, come see where I go.” If you like female vocalists who never fail to hit their mark, you will love her. My only wish is that she’d pick a direction: I think she’d be a fantastic blues singer with her throaty, clear style, and I would love to hear an entire album of her belting out some of the traditional songs, or even some Broadway tunes. She’s a delight on the ear.

New Music Highlight: These Wilder Things by Ruth Moody

            [Cover]I cut my teeth listening to Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, and knew all the words to at least a half-dozen Woody Guthrie songs before I went to school, so when folk music comes across my desk and it’s not of old-school character,   I tend to shy away.  However, I found Ruth Moody’s new album, These Wilder Things, to be an interesting  mix of old and newer pop  styles, with quite a bit of character.

             Moody, an award-winning folk singer from Winnipeg, has a lovely voice that changes with each type of song.  She can sound remarkably like Loreena McKennitt, then switch to Edie Brickell, then switch up again to sound like Natalie Imbruglia.  Her rendition of Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” is catchy, but at the same time strange in that it incorporates different rhythms, pauses, and instruments than the listener is used to – it turns out what I thought was a ukulele is actually a mandolin, and mandolin is not what I normally think of when I think of Springsteen.  

            While some of the tracks can have that old-school flair of guitar and banjo, the songs never lapse into the deep-country twanginess that scares many people away from folk music. Most of the music is quite mainstream, a blend of soft pop that would be totally at home on WRCH or any soft-music station.

            My favorite track is perhaps the first one, “Trouble and Woe,” because I like the light touch of banjo that to me signifies folk music. Not enough to make you break out reruns of Hee Haw, but a gentle touch to give depth to the guitar work.  “Trees for Skies” is pretty, and of course “Dancing in the Dark” will stick in your head, a new twist on an old favorite – and this time you can understand all the words!

Make Tonight the Night

imagesEver notice how some people seem to have it all – talent, timing, and a killer smile?  John Barrowman has all that, and more.  Born in Scotland and raised in Illinois, Barrowman is an actor with a huge array of talents.  You may not know his name, but you may have come across his face.  He’s performed on Broadway (Anything Goes, Putting It Together), done extensive theater in London’s West End, done American TV (Titans, Central Park West, Desperate Housewives), frequently featured on BBC programs (including Any Dream Will Do and Tonight’s the Night),  appeared in feature films (The Producers, De-Lovely), and written three books. He is most well-known for the lead role of the time-hopping, immortal rascal Captain Jack Harkness on the BBC TV series Dr. Who and Torchwood. And on top of all that, Barrowman is a singer.

And an accomplished singer at that – he has more than ten albums to his credit, some of which have debuted as high as number twelve on the British album charts.  Whether he honed his voice on Broadway, or it was his voice that put him there is anyone’s guess, but he certainly has the capability to belt out a tune with the best of them.

Cheshire Library recently acquired his album, Tonight’s the Night: The Very Best of John Barrowman.[Cover] Barrowman is a showman, singing cover songs, but if you like easy listening – Barry Manilow, Neil Sedaka, Broadway singers, America’s Got Talent – give Barrowman a try! This album is nice in that it allows enough of a variety to really showcase some of his talent. My favorite tracks: You’re Just to Good to Be True and The Winner Takes It All.  Weakest: Few people should be singing The Police, outside of The Police, and his Americanized over-enunciation on She’s Always A Woman  bothers me.  Barrowman has a fantastic voice that tends to be held back by poor musical direction – slow, plodding music does him no good.  He needs those catchy all-out showtunes to really shine – and he’s one star that shines very brightly.