ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Happy Songs
PERFORMER: Audra McDonald (soprano), etc
CATALOGUE NO: 7559-79645-2
It’s a brave woman who takes on two of the greatest torch singers on their home ground, but Audra McDonald, you feel, is a born fighter. She bends the Helen Morgan standard ‘More than you know’ to her own will, caressing the lyric as if it might turn and bite her. And she snaps into that Arlen/Gershwin anthem ‘Lose that long face’ as if Judy Garland had never been near the number. But the singer that McDonald cannot quite get out of her voice is Streisand. In particular those vocal tics that make Streisand recognisable within a couple of phrases, like slipping off the note at the end of a phrase as if setting on out on her own despite the band behind her. The soft singing in the head is very Barbra, too.
Not that Audra McDonald’s voice isn’t her own instrument. There is the sexiest of vocalises in Ellington’s ‘On a turquoise cloud’, which reminds us of her jazz credentials. And she rattles through ‘I double dare you’ like the A Train hurtling down Manhattan. In new arrangements of these American standards that drip nightclub chic in every bar, McDonald’s diction and phrasing are an absolute treat. Has anyone made more of Lorenz Hart’s lyric for ‘I wish I were in love again’: ‘When love congeals it soon reveals the faint aroma of performing seals; the double crossing of a pair of heels’? You reach for the repeat button and repeat and repeat it. Christopher Cook