Savoring the Solo Album: Let’s Get Digital
Even the most technologically-averse thespian knows that the times, they are a-changin’. In the world of contemporary musical theatre, music streaming and online video have fundamentally changed the ways that musical theatre reaches an audience. And this is by and large a positive thing. No longer do composers and lyricists have to rely on a full-scale production or a cast album release to build up a fanbase for their work or develop a following. The majority of composers and lyricists whose music graces this website can attest to that fact.
The digital revolution has similarly changed what constitutes a solo album. With the ubiquity of iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and downloadable music, albums of every musical genre have become less, well, album-y. Almost every artist making music these days now releases a digital album alongside, or even in lieu of, a physical album. As sentimental as you may be for the days of CD jewel cases and liner notes, digital music has a plethora of distinct advantages. Among these advantages is the simple fact that, by eliminating the manufacturing and shipping costs of distributing a physical album, the cost of releasing music is significantly lower for both the artist and the label. By lowering these costs, more artists are able to release music. Relevant to our interests, this means more actors making more solo albums. And the world could use more solo albums! So shake off your inner luddite and embrace the digital revolution.
Now, who has the résumé and online credentials to lead this digital revolution? Enter Natalie Weiss, stage left.
In case you have been living under a rock since Jersey Boys won the Tony, Natalie Weiss is the amazingly talented actor/singer/performer/riffer extraordinaire who took the theatre world by storm after a Youtube video of her singing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” went viral. Since then, she has performed in the touring cast of Wicked, traveled the world performing concerts, taught master classes, recorded songs for everyone from Scott Alan to Kerrigan-Lowdermilk, and created the delightful web series Breaking Down the Riffs (which you may have read all about yesterday). Weiss is a prime example of how the paths to fame in the musical theatre world are increasing and evolving in the age of the Internet.
It would come as no surprise that when Natalie Weiss recorded a solo album in 2010, she went digital. The result, Natalie Weiss EP, is a selection of seven songs that can be purchased through a variety of online music platforms. Originally, this EP was only available digitally; however, a small amount of physical copies were later made available. Nonetheless, with Natalie Weiss EP, we have a fine example of how the solo album is changing as music consumption increasingly shifts away from CDs and towards digital downloads and online streaming.
The most unique thing about Natalie Weiss EP is the orchestration. The album is essentially an acoustic album stripped down to a guitar, piano, and drums. Though at first this may seem like a counterintuitive choice for a performer whose bread and butter is riffing her face off, it actually proves to be a smart decision. The riffs are still a-plenty, but with the pared down instrumentation, Weiss is able to approach the songs with a subtlety and nuance you can’t achieve when backed by a full orchestra. There is a real intimacy to this album that you don’t often find in the belt-heavy land of solo albums.
Two of the album’s highlights are her covers of Katy Perry’s “Mannequin” (Sorry Katy, Natalie does it so much better) and “Only Hope” from the movie A Walk to Remember (Legen—wait for it—dary). But perhaps the most exciting song on the entire album is the closer, “There With You.” Why? Three words. Jason. Robert. Brown.
Just as with Julia Murney’s “I’m Not Waiting,” which I talked about in my last post, “There With You” is another musical theatre song that was written specifically to be recorded on a solo album— in this case, Jason Robert Brown wrote the song for Natalie Weiss. In the vein of songs like Jonathan Larson’s “Love Heals,” “There With You” hits that sweet spot between gospel and pop, complete with a chorus of backup singers to compliment Weiss’ stunning vocal range. It sounds quite different from JRB’s other works—Parade or The Last Five Years this is not—but that is part of the song’s appeal. But most of all, the song’s fun is in Weiss’ earnestness and that infectious hook—No matter where you go I will be there with you.
Another solo album, another new musical theatre song. It’s almost as if a pattern is emerging, isn’t it?