Friday, October 7, 2011

cd review- Olivia Newton John, Portraits: A Tribute to Great Women of Song

Olivia Newton John was one of the biggest pop stars of the 70's and 80's.  She has had numerous hit songs, from her early hits "Have You Never Been Mellow" and "I Honestly Love You" to the hugely successful "Physical."  She starred in one of the biggest movie musicals of that time, Grease, as well as in one of the biggest movie musical flops, Xanadu.  And, even though Xanadu tanked at the box office, the soundtrack of that film spawned many hit singles including "Magic" and "Suddenly."

She has recorded many albums over the years and originated many songs.  So, the fact that Olivia made a cover album performing songs associated with other famous performers is somewhat of an oddity. This recording, Portraits: A Tribute to Great Women of Song, which was just released in the US, is actually a rerelease of her Aussie cd Indigo from 2004 which was produced by famous music producer Phil Ramone.  Offering a wide diversity of song styles, each of the songs on the album has a personal connection to Olivia from the song she sang at a talent contest to the one that taught her how to play the guitar.  And while the album is ballad heavy, the songs have different arrangements that let them stand apart from each other resulting in a varied collection of song styles.

Olivia is in very good voice throughout the recording.  As her voice has aged she has lost a bit of her high range but gained more depth on the lower notes.

The cd starts off with an extremely well paced cover of Astrud Gilberto's "How Insensitive" which is followed by the Doris Day hit "Love Me or Leave Me" which, while it has a somewhat undercooked arrangement including a strange organ part still finds Olivia in good form.  A sultry "Cry Me a River" made famous by Julie London is next, one of my personal favorites on this recording and that is followed by the Dionne Warwick hit "Anyone Who Had a Heart" which has a groovy arrangement.   Olivia knocks that one out of the park, no wonder that was the song that won her a talent contest.

Pete Seeger's "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" probably made most famous by Peter, Paul and Mary as well as by Joan Baez, has a beautiful and quiet guitar driven arrangement that is a perfect compliment to the message driven lyrics.  Olivia provides a beautiful and soft spoken delivery as well.  This is the song she learned to play the guitar with.  "How Glad I Am," made famous by Nancy Wilson, is probably the least known song on the recording but Olivia delivers it in a sexy and playful way.  The Minnie Riperton hit "Lovin' You" takes you back to the sounds of the 70's.  Even though Olivia fortunately doesn't attempt the most likely out of her range high pitched moments of that song, it is still a nice version.

Olivia's take on the Karen Carpenter classic "Rainy Days and Mondays" is probably the highlight of the recording and Olivia truly connects with the lyrics, even partially speaking some of them, and the arrangement never overshadows the lyrics and Olivia's delivery of them.  "Send in the Clowns," one of the two show tunes on the album, is another highlight, though from the somewhat understated approach Olivia gives to this song I'm not sure if she clearly grasps the meaning of the lyrics. 

"Summertime" is both a lullaby and a sexy, sultry romantic song delivered in a breathless style.  It has a nice arrangement as well.   The cd ends with "Alfie" and while it can't quite touch Dionne Warwick's classic version of the song, it has a lovely arrangement and Olivia delivers the lyrics in a beautiful way.

While Portraits may not deliver on every song it is still an enjoyable recording that includes some great songs in great lush arrangements sung by one of the greatest pop stars of the past 40 years.


No comments:

Post a Comment