Savoring the Solo Album: The Final Note
As this blog series comes to a close, I hope that I’ve been able to get your brain a-thinkin’ about solo albums in novel and interesting ways. Or perhaps just thinking about them at all.
Because there they sit in our iTunes libraries, oft listened to, but seldom thought about. We give them many labels in our hearts: the guilty pleasure, the rainy day listen, the empowerment anthem, the diva power ballad—but rarely do we talk of them directly in terms of active musical theatre creation. Solo albums have always existed somewhere on the periphery of musical theatre, and if there’s one thing I would like to impart to you lovelies, it’s that they deserve so much more. Solo albums are a part of musical theatre. If you like that thing where composers and lyricists take a score and a lyric and construct a narrative arc into a song with which to take the listener on an emotional journey, then guess what, solo albums do that all the time!
And so, before I say goodbye to this solo album exploration, let’s look at a solo album that encapsulates the many ways in which solo albums enrich musical theatre at large. There is perhaps no solo album that succeeds at doing this as well as Lauren Kennedy’s Here and Now.
Lauren Kennedy’s musical theatre career is expansive and illustrious. She’s been in everything from Sunset Boulevard to Side Show to Spamalot. She worked with Jason Robert Brown to originate the role of Cathy in The Last Five Years, and her first solo album was an album entirely consisting of JRB songs. She’s got the stuff. When it came time to create and record her second solo album, Kennedy worked with just about every composer and lyricist around to create an album that is a veritable Who’s Who of the contemporary musical theatre world.
Some of the songs she chose are plucked right from recent and lesser known musicals. Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham’s “Just Not Now” (from I Love You Because). Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin’s “Pretending That I’m Somebody Else” (from The Rhythm Club). Adam Guettel’s “Through the Mountain” (from Floyd Collins). These musicals—while wonderful—aren’t the most well known, and their addition on Kennedy’s solo album shines a light onto these shows and helps introduce new listeners to both the musical and the works of the composers and lyricists who wrote them. By choosing to record these songs, Kennedy is actively promoting contemporary musical theatre.
Kennedy also sings “Easy” from Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy’s musical, Waiting for the Moon: An American Love Story. This musical has only premiered at a select few theatres nationally, and a cast album for the show has never been made. Kennedy’s performance of “Easy” on her solo album is the only time any of the songs have been recorded. By choosing to perform that song, Kennedy is pushing musical theatre forward by allowing the masses to hear a song from a musical that they wouldn’t be able to hear anywhere else.
In addition to the selections from contemporary musicals, Here and Now contains songs from musical theatre composers and lyricists that are not a part of a larger production. These standalone songs rarely get professional recordings, and by choosing to select them as a part of her cast album, Kennedy is exposing the musical-loving public to the expanded songbooks of some of the brightest talents writing musical theatre today. These songs include: Andrew Lippa’s “Spread a Little Joy” and Marcy Heisler & Zina Goldrich’s “Apathetic Man.”
For my money, the standout song of this album is Jeff Blumenkrantz and Libby Saines’ “I’m Free,” from their one-act musical Precious Little Jewel. Here, a woman gets the news that her husband has died, and she realizes for the first time that she is free from a marriage that was less than compassionate. Kennedy’s voice shines as this woman discovering her freedom for the very first time. And that final note! I am pretty sure that final note makes time stop. Brava, Ms. Kennedy. Brava.
Give Here and Now a listen. And the next time you play a solo album, know that you aren’t just jamming out to your favorite Broadway star; you are helping to keep musical theatre diverse, progressive, and thriving.