For the second time, I'd like to do something a little different on a Sunday, discuss some new-to-me music that I thought others might like.
I'll start with the most recent and high-profile album, Kelly Clarkson's Meaning Of Life. If you've turned the radio on any time within the past six months or so, you can't fail to have heard "Love So Soft," and it's a good example of what to expect: energetic, sassy R&B-style music, driven by Kelly's powerful voice. Her belting strength is ideally suited to these songs, always with enough punch to carry over the elaborate arrangements. In this vein, the ballads are generally the weakest songs. There's too much going on to allow the listener to really feel the heart of the song. That said, "Would You Call That Love" is an exception and one of my favorites.
At first listen, Meaning of Life feels very "samey" - it takes a few listen-throughs to begin to appreciate each song on its own and their varied character. "Whole Lotta Woman" is bound to drag a grin out of you, and another favorite is the closing number, "Go High." This is one of those songs where the combination of melody, lyrics and arrangement are perfectly suited to each other.
Next up is Rachel Fuller's Cigarettes & Housework. Who in the world is Rachel Fuller? She's a pianist singer-songwriter with intricate arrangements and an ethereal but still rounded voice. I discovered her from the Shall We Dance? soundtrack, where one of her songs - "Wonderland" - is featured. (The song is also on this album by what I assume is the original title, not used for obvious reasons: "Eat Me") And ... this album is wonderful, elegant piano combined with clever but easy lyrics and a pop-rock spirit. To get a feel for what Cigarettes & Housework offers, check out "Into My Heart."
I admit that the middle section of the album sags; I have trouble distinguishing between "Imperfection," "Happy To Be Sad" and "Nothing Worthwhile" ... but really, the worst part about this album is it's a one-off. Fuller never put out another full album after its 2004 release. That puts me into a "Spin."
I also have to highlight Idina Menzel's I Stand. This is an earlier album than her recent idina, which I covered in my last music review. People know Menzel as Elsa, as Rachel's Mother from Glee, as the titular character from Wicked, but oddly enough not as a singer in her own right ... which is a shame, because her voice is perfection and her music is full of warmth and beauty. I Stand doesn't show off her astonishing range quite as much, but it's still obvious she is head and shoulders above the average singer. It's also refreshingly easy to understand the lyrics, probably because Menzel has a background in musicals, where every phrase is essential to the plot.
This album is sweet and satisfying, with a nice range of different moods and pacing. Its darkest moment is probably my favorite: "I Feel Everything."
Finally, if you're a Sara Bareilles fan, you probably know about the Waitress musical, and it's likely you've heard at least pieces of What's Inside, her personal take on selected songs she composed for the musical. Waitress is charming, heartwarming and hilarious, but is it worth owning both? Absolutely. The songs that overlap vary in quality; "I Didn't Plan It" is amazing, raw and powerful, superior to Bareilles' version, while the more "talky" version of "When He Sees Me" just seems to lose some of its clever verve.
But there's a ton more in the Waitress soundtrack. In fact, it's not just songs from the musical, it is the entire book, including orchestral interludes and even a brief piece where the main character speaks to her baby. Some of these are throwaway, but others are highly enjoyable - I quite liked "Club Knocked Up." As this might imply, Waitress is very much a musical, with conversational interludes, sung interruptions, and ensemble interaction. If you're not sure this is your cup of tea, try out "The Negative" - that will give you an idea if you want a bigger taste of Waitress.
I do find it interesting where the lyrics differ between What's Inside and Waitress. Not all of these changes seem to involve the shift between an independent song and a musical number, so I wonder if they were organic changes made in rehearsal or development.
And in conclusion, I have to highlight this gem: "I Love You Like A Table."