Albums on which songwriters sing their own songs, particularly songwriters who are not also professional singers, are always interesting to listen to. Jamie deRoy, who served as executive producer of this collection, includes some examples of such songs, but she is actually going for a broader (which is to say, less focused) selection; in fact, she seems to have wanted to include a little of everything. So, for example, we have lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr., accompanied on piano by his partner, composer David Shire, singing the album's title song, an autobiographical tribute to both of the songwriters' fathers that was used in their 1989 Off-Broadway musical revue Closer than Ever. Maltby doesn't have the vocal range that Shire's melody calls for, but his strain to hit the notes makes the already heartfelt lyrics all the more affecting. Despite the string section orchestrated by Tom Kochan, the track has a semi-professional feel. It's the kind of performance one generally hears on a songwriter album, but it's in the minority here. Not that there aren't other show music songwriters hawking their own wares, including Andrew Lippa, Maury Yeston, Lucy Simon, Shelly Markham, Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez, Gretchen Cryer, and Stephen Schwartz. But these people, all younger than Maltby and Shire, came of age during or after the '60s, when Bob Dylan and the Beatles changed the old paradigm of non-performing songwriters and non-writing singers. Simon, of course, performed professionally with her sister Carly Simon as the Simon Sisters; Cryer was the star of I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road in addition to writing the songs with Nancy Ford, among them the Off-Broadway hit's best-known song, "Old Friend," included here; and Schwartz has released several solo albums. Even when it comes to nominal non-performers like Lippa and Yeston, however, the ante clearly has been raised. Their tracks, "Live Out Loud" and "Nowhere to Go But Up," respectively, are not mere publishing demos, but fully realized recordings, and both demonstrate good voices.
But this is not just an album of show songs. DeRoy also has thrown in a handful of pop and cabaret artists, among them Julie Gold, who sings her Grammy-winning standard "From a Distance," and Larry Gatlin, who contributes his hit "All the Gold in California." Interestingly, in their sleeve notes, both writers boast of how successful these songs were -- Gatlin says his bought him a farm, while Gold proudly reveals that hers has been used in greeting cards, among other things. This comment actually uncovers the real weakness of deRoy's selection of material. There's a lot here that you could put on greeting cards. Many of these performers sound like they're auditioning compositions to be covered by James Taylor or Carole King in about 1972. The melodies are sweet, and the lyrics are even sweeter, full of romantic devotion, family feeling, and other sincere sentiments. DeRoy provides very little to contrast this, and when she does, with Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez's "Tear It Up and Throw It Away," a song cut from Avenue Q, it's to give us an odious piece of sarcasm like so many of the other songs that actually made it into the show. (In this one, one puppet blithely urges another to disregard a jury summons.) Otherwise, insulin shock may set in for a listener long before the album is over. ~ William Ruhlmann
Release Date: 17 January 2011