In the last few years we have lost some very important voices in music. Laura Nyro, Kirsty MacColl and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan will all be missed, but fortunately we have the music they recorded to remind us of their priceless contributions. We now also have the last albums they recorded before their untimely deaths.
I still get all emotional when I think about Laura Nyro. I was fortunate enough to have attended two of her concerts at different times in her career ( 1978 and 1994 ) and was amazed at her presence both times. Recorded in the years preceding her passing in 1997, Angel In The Dark ( Rounder ) contains eight original Laura Nyro songs, some which finding her at the peak of her songwriting skills. The wonderful title track, snappy "Gardenia Talk," and sweet and dreamy "Sweet Dream Fade," remind us of the great loss that occurred when Nyro died. During 1994, Ms. Nyro recorded eight cover tunes, what she described as the "primal heartbeat songs" of her youth. Composers ranging from Rodgers and Hart ( "He Was Too Good To Me" ) to Goffin and King ( "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" ) to Bacharach and David ( "Walk On By" and the breathtaking "Be Aware" ) , to name a few, are taken into Nyro's distinctive grasp and handled with love, respect and affection. With this final recording, Laura Nyro is definitely one angel who is sorely missed on earth.
One of the things that I remember most clearly about the Kirsty MacColl concert I attended in Chicago during the mid-'90s was the number of gay men in the audience. Singer/ songwriter Kirsty MacColl had a sizable gay following. Her songs have even been covered by two gay icons. Tracy Ullman had a hit with Ms. MacColl's song "They Don't Know About Us" in the '80s, while Bette Midler covered her song "In These Shoes," on her most recent album. You can also find "In These Shoes" on Tropical Brainstorm ( Instinct/V2 ) , Ms. MacColl's Latin-influenced posthumously released album. The combination of MacColl's irreverent lyrics and her reverence for the music and culture of Cuba wash over the listener like Hurricane Kirsty. Her wicked brilliant sense of humor keeps songs such as the aforementioned "In These Shoes," "Treachery," "Here Comes That Man Again," "England 2, Colombia 0," "Us Amazonians," and "Designer Life," blowing through the atmosphere and through your memory. When she got serious, as she did on "Autumgirlsoup," "Nao Esperenado," "Wrong Again," "Head," and the serious Latin dance workout of "Allegria," she was equally as dazzling. This album is essential for MacColl's fans ( the three bonus tracks and video track are a good argument for owning this one ) , as well as those who enjoy Latin-influenced music.
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Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was just gaining popularity among American audiences when he died suddenly in 1997. Via collaborations with Peter Gabriel, Eddie Vedder and others, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Qawwali music were being introduced to people who might not otherwise have had the chance to hear Khan distinguished and ecstatic vocals. Two albums Dust To Gold ( Real World ) and The Final Recordings ( American ) hope to realize the legacy of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's work.
Based on his hilarious and outrageous 1968 movie comedy of the same name, Mel Brooks's musical adaptation of The Producers ( with book by Brooks and Thomas Meehan ) is the best ( and gayest ) thing to hit Broadway in many years. The story of Broadway producer Max Bialystock ( Nathan Lane ) and accountant Leo Bloom ( Matthew Broderick ) , who team up to produce the biggest flop in Broadway history. They find "the worst play ever written" ( Springtime For Hitler ) and "hire the worst director in town" ( the flaming Roger De Bris, played by Gary Beach ) and the rest is musical theater history. Brooks, who hinted at his songwriting skills in some of his movies ( for example, "I'm Tired" sung by Madeline Kahn as Lili Von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles ) , has outdone himself with the songs he wrote for this production. With only two songs, "Springtime For Hitler" and "Prisoners Of Love," from the original movie in the new stage musical, Brooks has outdone himself with numbers such as "The King Of Broadway" ( performed by Lane ) , "I Wanna Be A Producer" ( Broderick's big show-stopper ) , "Keep It Gay," "When You Got It, Flaunt" ( sung by Cady Huffman as sexy Swedish secretary Ulla ) , "Along Came Bialy," and Lane's eleventh-hour number "Betrayed," on The Producers—Original Broadway Cast Recording ( Sony Classical ) . The tunes from the Springtime For Hitler musical within the musical are also delightful.
I recently learned something interesting about Mamma Mia! "the musical based on the songs of Abba" ( ! ) . The wonderful and, in my opinion, under-appreciated Karen Mason has been cast as Tanya in the Broadway production of Mamma Mia!, which is scheduled to open on Broadway in October. In the meantime, Mamma Mia! is touring the country. The original cast album to Mamma Mia! ( Decca Broadway ) , takes nearly two dozen of Abba's polyester pop creations and weaves them into a musical. You'll probably enjoy this if you like Abba as much as Muriel ( in the movie Muriel's Wedding ) . If not, I'd recommend listening to the original versions.
Although it is not a "cast recording," the release of Love, Janis ( Columbia/Legacy )
does coincide with the off-Broadway production at the Village Theater in New York. Considered to be the "companion CD to the stage show of the same name," Love, Janis contains 12 of the original recordings of such Janis Joplin favorites as "Mercedes Benz," "Me and Boby McGee," "Piece Of My Heart," "Ball And Chain," and "Down On Me," to name a few. This "companion CD" is, like the stage show, interspersed with an actress ( Catherine Curtin on the CD ) reading Joplin's letters home.