Thursday, September 29, 2011

cd review Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway - "Boom! Live at Birdland"

There are some Broadway performers who are better in a musical production or on a recording than in live concert performances.  Either they don't have the appropriate "patter" between songs, or don't find a good way to present their songs to connect to a paying audience to hold their attention for a 60 to 90 minute show.   Two of the best musical theatre performers who know how to "do" live performances are sisters and Tony nominees Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway.  Their second duo cd, "Boom," a live recording of their concert of the same name, has just been released, and it is a winner.

Now technically Ann is more of a jazz performer than a musical theater one, but she did receive a Tony nom for her Broadway debut in Swing.   Liz was in the original Broadway casts of Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along, Baby and Miss Saigon as well as played many performances on Broadway as Grizabella in Cats.  She got her Tony nomination for Baby.  The Callaway sisters were born in the Chicago suburbs but both ended up in New York City in the early 80's and have each found success individually in the worlds of Broadway, Jazz, cabaret and concert performances.  Ann is also a successful song writer having written songs for many recording artists including Barbra Streisand as well as the theme song for the tv show The Nanny.

Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway
"Boom" presents songs of the 60's and 70's and the personal stories that Ann and Liz tell in this recorded concert about their upbringing and how these songs connected to them are great.  Liz has actually been down this road before, releasing a recording, "The Beat Goes On" that includes songs from that same period including a few that are repeated on this cd.

Ann and Liz's voices, while very different, combine perfectly on the numerous songs they perform.   Beautiful vocal arrangements highlight the differences in their voices while providing the appropriate blending necessary to provide a rich sound.  I like how many times one sister will provide back-up vocals for the other that in no way outshines the sister soloing.  The three piece band lead by musical director Alex Rybeck on piano provides a lush musical accompaniment that sounds much larger and full than just a piano, drums and bass.

The 22 tracks on the recording include many medleys and duets but also allow each sister a couple of solo moments to stand alone.  Some of the great songs on the cd include the Beatle's "Come Together" and "Yesterday," the Streisand hit "The Way We Were," "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" and several medleys including one that includes a rousing version of "Joy to the World."  A snazzy, slowed down arrangement of "These Boots are Made For Walking" that perfectly captures the strength of each sister's chops as well as the natural humor they each have is a personal favorite.  This is followed by a simply stunning and heartbreaking arrangement of Carly Simon's "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be" that allows for some beautiful Callaway Sister harmonies.

Solo highlights on the cd include lovely versions of "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me," a pairing of Jimmy Webb songs "Didn't We/MacArthur Park" and a gorgeous blending of "I Know a Place" and "Downtown" for Liz and striking renditions of  "A Case of You," and "Blowin' in the Wind" for Ann.

An excellent medley of Stevie Wonder songs ends the set before a beautiful encore of the Carole King hit "You've Got a Friend," which is a perfect end to the personal story of two sisters who are clearly the best of friends.

All in all, this is a superb recording for anyone who grew up to the music of the 60's and 70's as well as anyone who is a fan of the music from those decades.

Highly recommended

Ann and Liz at Barnes and Noble - performance promoting the release of "Boom!" -

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