Past Reviews

Sound Advice Reviews

Versatile Vocalists
with special arrangements
Reviews by Rob Lester

Club44 Records
CD and digital

The entertainment world has witnessed many a singer springing from the gene pool that is the multi-generation Osmond family. David Osmond is one in the recording spotlight right now and we know there's always been—and will be—more where that came from. Meanwhile, There's More Where That Came From is the title of a very satisfying new release from the large-ensemble Osmond Chapman Orchestra, which adopts a combination of the surnames of two dynamic performers: vocalist David and music director/alto saxophonist Caleb Chapman. Instrumentation consists of three additional sax men, varying players on trumpet and trombone, plus piano, guitar, bass and drums.

The collection is a mix of cool originals and covers of familiar pop, country, and Great American Songbook standards. Versatility and verve are major assets of the 11 tracks, making for a thoroughly rewarding listen. The vitality of the sound and sensibility suggests a comfortable ambience of the Big Band era with its blasts and swing. Rethinking music through that filter, the older songs don't cling to the telltale signs of their genres' trademarks or iconic interpreters. For example, the country pieces ("Ring of Fire" and "You Don't Know Me") don't announce themselves with hints of twang or steel guitars.

David Osmond has a natural, bright vocal sound and the power to sustain notes and be gutsy when that's called for. Besides the DNA and his performing experience with his family and some solo releases, he has a theatrical flair honed from several touring productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, having taken over the title role from his uncle, Donny, and keeping things in the family with some of his numerous brothers in the company playing some of the numerous brothers of Joseph. He also is prominently featured in the just-released recording of the score of a musical called 1820 about the founder of the religion his kin are aligned with—Mormonism.

Three of the standout treats on There's More Where That Came From came from movies of the 1930s, but they don't sound at all antique or depend on the sure allure of nostalgia. The orchestra sails through "The Way You Look Tonight" and the singer is much closer to the glee and briskness of the Frank Sinatra imprint than the gentler Fred Astaire original. It's invigorating. The Charlie Chaplin theme that got a belated lyric to be known as "Smile" is often taken at a cautious tempo, offering its advice to try to put on a happy face through trial and error as if the person offering advice knows and shares the struggle. But here, fleet and frisky, it is unquestionably assured of its panacea-like proposal. One of the most voluminously recorded items of the 20th century, "Over the Rainbow," shows the sincere side of Osmond and bandleader Chapman. Without overplaying the fragility, the fresh, invested phrasing brings out the requisite yearning and vulnerability. And the inclusion of its often-dropped introductory verse ("When all the world is a hopeless jumble ...") is a plus that sets the mood and mindset.

The Bruno Mars hit "When I Was Your Man" is a welcome choice for something of more recent vintage that allows for some authentic-sounding emotional honesty and rue, catharsis enhanced by the blazing Chapman sax solo. Ron Miller and Orlando Burden's "For Once in My Life" and Bart Howard's "Fly Me to the Moon" have long proven themselves to be adaptable to different tempi and styles, from ballad to bristling, and here they get upbeat settings.

The originals, co-written by Roger Brown (two with Osmond and Chapman, and "More Where That Came From" with George Byron Hill), are brimming with personality and confidence. Jenny Jordan is a perky partner for the cute vocal duet on "Might as Well Fall in Love." Like so much here, it's a feel-good trip well worth the taking.

Amber Inn Records
CD and digital

It's a natural tendency for creative people to look back at their early work and wish to re-do some aspects, with the advantage of new perspectives gained simply from having lived—and lived with the material. There may be second thoughts of the "If only I had done that" or "If only I'd had the time (or budget) to expand things ..." variety. Well, singer Amber Weekes has taken stock of the dozen tracks on her 2007 debut CD, 'Round Midnight, which had the primary goal of being a promotional tool to introduce her vocal and interpretive abilities, with instrumentation on the spare side.

The singer enlisted the help of Mark Cargill, who has worked with her on her subsequent releases. He added strings, re-orchestrated and produced the new version (now retitled 'Round Midnight Re-Imagined) and, with Gregory Cook, remixed, remixed and engineered it, resulting in lush, plush, full-bodied settings that establish and sustain strong moods. It is drenched in atmosphere. At times, some of the layers on selections with synthesized sounds may risk being laid on heavily enough to distract from the vocals. But, mostly, it's a successful swirl of sound, and the added strings sometimes serve to do the heavy lifting in sustaining a melody's structure and flow in cases where the vocalist indulges in a predilection for leaving lots of space for dramatic pauses and isolating words.

The liner notes dwell on the intention of making the album a series of unfolding Manhattan scenes the singer recalls or imagines—from a landmark church cuing the religious songs to the tale of her aunt, working as a waitress in the family-owned Harlem luncheonette, dating Sidney Poitier. But such things are barely surmised without those notes; there's no spoken material or special lyrics to spell them out, but the background information can inform the listening. Knowing that Amber Weekes' father was a fan of Frank Sinatra's repertoire isn't an unusual bit of news, but that did help expose her to some of the standards she graces. A segment of songs here called "The Bar Suite" includes two woe-is-me weepers with Harold Arlen melodies first heard in films: his signature "saloon song" with Johnny Mercer's lyric "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)"; and Johnny Mercer's lyric and a melody Mercer once set to words that got left in the proverbial trunk until Ira Gershwin got hold of it for A Star Is Born and the tune was reborn as "The Man That Got Away." Amber Weekes inhabits neither as a tortured, intense cry of pain, but finds more subtlety and shows especially silky vocal sounds. These two laments are setup by a similarly calm, controlled handling of the sung dialogue of a lady clinging to her bravado and drinking "Something Cool" at a bar, making the three approaches really quite—if you'll forgive the expression—sober.

The ache of loneliness inherent in these lyrics and 'Round Midnight's title number can't be totally offset by pretty singing, and thankfully the collection is balanced by happier moods via the bubbly "Lovers," plucked from Natalie Cole's repertoire, two sly picks referencing the enticing movements of women's bodies ("Hazel's Hips" and "Don't You Feel My Leg"), and three Broadway-born classics of yore (the 1929 ballad "More Than You Know" and two things from 1935: Rodgers & Hart's dreamy "My Romance" and the Porgy and Bess lullaby "Summertime"). The last-named piece is blended with a captivating take on something that came along about half a century later: "Sister Moon," the intriguing piece written by Sting.

More mellow than melodramatic, making room for expressing her religious faith as well as some sass and swaths of sincerity, Amber Weekes and her musical partners have a way of making feelings of love lovely to hear.

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