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!