Monday, 16 November 2020

REVIEW: Laura Benanti – Self Titled Album

God, I miss slow dancing with my Parisian lover on a candlelit balcony after a few too many Merlots… And now you can too!
Perhaps it’s the jazz classics, or the wistful orchestration, but Laura Benanti’s self-titled debut album makes me feel nostalgic. It’s a wonderfully cohesive collection of jazzified contemporary numbers and humorous takes on timeless melodies, which Benanti traverses effortlessly. The Tony Award winner herself says of it; ‘You could put it on at a dinner party or listen to it in the bath. It could speak to so many different possible moments’, and I couldn’t put it better myself (though it’s my job to try). 

The album opens with a Rufus Wainright cover, Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk, which admittedly I’d never heard before. It sets the tone of the album wonderfully, with instrumentals that sound straight out of Midnight in Paris… or Ratatouille (which isn’t a bad thing, believe me.). The album is punctuated with these quintessential jazz and swing arrangements which would indeed accompany both dinner parties and baths. 

At risk of targeting a very specific audience, which, to a degree it does, these movie-worthy melodies are interrupted by covers of the likes of Selena Gomez and the Jonas Brothers. I use the word interrupted purposefully, as two of the three forays into pop don’t particularly hit the mark for me. This isn’t to say that they aren’t sung beautifully, but compared to songs like Go Slow, where I couldn’t imagine anyone else’s voice doing more justice to them than Benanti’s, the cover of Lewis Capaldi’s Someone You Loved strangely reminded me of the opening to an Evanescence ballad; make of that what you will. I know I said the album made me feel nostalgic, but I didn’t mean for my emo phase. However, the swing version of The Jonas Brother’s come-back hit Sucker was arguably one of my favourites on the record, so perhaps it’s more testament to Benanti and Gil Goldstein’s (arrangement) mastery of swing and jazz than a disappointing misadventure into 21st Century pop. 

It wouldn’t be a Laura Benanti album without a dip into musical theatre, which comes in the form of Sondheim’s The Boy From. It’s the first twinge of comedy on the album; comedy that appears sort of like easter eggs throughout. You wouldn’t necessarily notice it during your standard bath-time play through, but if you listen closely, you’ll notice the ironic improvisations that slip their way into numbers like the seemingly outdated Wives and Lovers. The interjection provides a light-hearted look at the reality of being a wife, mother and lover, and gives two fingers to the original message. 

What is also notable about the Burt Bacharach cover is the saxophone. The velvety, buttery saxophone. The dreamy, creamy saxophone, which is really just a drop in the water when it comes to the impeccable instrumentals of this album. Throughout, I was blown away by just how beautiful, and beautifully balanced, the orchestration was for every single number. It shines at the forefront of tunes like Rest of Your Life but subtly supports Benanti’s unparalleled vocals in Don’t Worry Bout Me (which boasts an outstanding guitar solo nevertheless). 

The album ends playfully with a song titled Party’s Over, a Nat King Cole cover, which should lead you seamlessly into your own nostalgic, Parisian daydream. If indeed you’re a fan of daydreaming, Benanti, or just good music then I would highly recommend this album. You can stream it or buy it wherever you like to stream or buy things.

Review by Anna Smith

Rating: ★★★★
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