One of my favorite things about local/regional music scenes is that the musicians that dominate many local music scenes is original, songs I have never heard before, written by or for the bands that perform them. With how unoriginal mainstream music tends to be, rehashing the same songs over and over and over again, new songs are a refreshing treat. Still, there are a lot of great songs that I want to hear covered by particular artists. And, in some genres, like pop/classical, pop a cappella, and the mega-groups like Celtic Thunder and Celtic Woman, covers are pretty much what everyone sings almost all the time.
I have a running wishlist in my head at all times of songs I want to hear certain artists cover, and sometimes I get my wish, with spectacular results. On my miniplaylist this week I have 3 artists/acts- Celtic Thunder, Rhydian Roberts, and Josh Groban. My readers may know by now that I am a pretty long-standing fan of all three of these, and I’ve had years to work out what I want to hear them perform.
Josh Groban is one pop/classical singer who doesn’t just cover existing songs. I love that his albums include his own songs and other brand new songs, alongside the ones other singers cover. In fact, other singers cover Josh Groban’s original songs now. In my mind he’s a sort of modern-day Frank Sinatra, especially now, with Josh’s latest album, but a bit better than Sinatra because Josh is also a songwriter.
Josh released a brand new album this month, called Stages, made up entirely of covers from musical theater. His voice still sounds distinctly like him, but more mature, well-honed, expressive, and powerful than in earlier albums. I’m glad he waited to record some of my favorite musical theater songs till his voice reached this point, because as a result he is not just another singer doing just another cover of a well-known song. I’ve griped before about how all my favorite pop/classical singers sing “To Where You Are”, “You’re Still You”, “The Prayer”, and a few other standards; I only need so many nearly identical renditions of the exact same sappy songs on my itunes playlists, however nice each one sounds individually. The songs on Josh’s new album, though, are decidedly his own interpretations, and he has the ability to sing these classic songs so that they sound like ‘Josh Groban’ songs, I actually like his version of “Pure Imagination” and “Over the Rainbow”, both songs that always make me cringe otherwise (yes, even when sung by the otherwise amazing Neil Byrne.)
My favorites off Stages- “Bring Him Home”, from Les Miserables- he also included a second Les Mis song off my wishlist, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”, on the bonus version of the album.
“Try to Remember”, from The Fantasticks. This song was on my wishlist for Josh Groban and for Celtic Thunder, so maybe Celtic Thunder will try it on an upcoming album now that Josh recorded it.
“What I Did For Love”, from A Chorus Line. I have had Josh’s rendition of this song stuck in my head on repeat all week.
Rhydian has been having more health problems with his voice, something he has been dealing with off and on for years, so it may be a while before his next album comes out, but his latest album, One Day Like This, came out just last year. On this album, Rhydian demonstrated that he, too, has matured a lot vocally over the years. His voice is more flexible than when he started, and fits pop songs better, and his classical songs sound more expressive and approachable now.
Several of my top requests show up on Rhydian’s recent album, including 2 songs that I first fell in love with through an Andrea Boccelli concert video-
“Miserere”- Andrea Boccelli sang this one with an Italian artist who I am guessing was Francesco Di Giacomo, from the rock band Banco del Mutuo Soccorso. Rhydian performs this song with the legendary rock artist Bonnie Tyler. I’ve included songs from Bonnie’s albums on earlier playlist posts. You may be most familiar with her song “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. Bonnie is actually Welsh, so it makes sense that she might turn up on an album with Rhydian, who has made championing Welsh contemporary music one of his missions over the past few years.
“Vivo Per Lei” – In the public television special Boccelli performs a bit of this song with a blond Italian lady in a clip in between segments of concert footage. Rhydian performs this song with Kerry Ellis, and while I prefer the Italian for the fact that it sounds less cheesy when you can’t tell what the words say, I love hearing the whole song finally. I also am a Kerry Ellis fan, and love the idea of Kerry and Rhydian singing together.
My third favorite on this album is “Suo Gan”, which I’ve heard Rhydian perform on a youtube video, but which had not made it onto an album yet. I do wish there was more Welsh on this album, but then again Rhydian did release an all-Welsh album a few years ago. He is also talking a bit on social media about a new album now that his musical theater schedule is winding down for a while, so maybe there will be more Welsh coming in the next album.
Celtic Thunder is on break after a ‘best of’ tour that featured a decidedly shuffled cast, so it is anyone’s guess what they will record when they regroup again. I’m working on a dream setlist for them that I’ll post soon, just my requests/suggestions of course, and trying to not duplicate my dream setlist from a few years ago. Seeing as Josh Groban and Rhydian Roberts have recorded some of my wishlist songs on their new albums, maybe Celtic Thunder will do the same?
At least the new “best of” album from Celtic Thunder, The Very Best of Celtic Thunder, manages to include many of my all-time favorites.
“Amazing Grace” – Coming out so soon after George Donaldson died, it was great to see that the ‘old’ recording of this song made the cut for the new collection. This track has become particularly symbolic and meaningful over the years, as the one posted to express grief over the loss of George, and as a sort of prayer while the fandom was waiting for Ryan to recover from his coma a few years ago.
“She Moved Through the Fair” – Celtic Thunder and Josh Groban both released albums that included this song at about the same time, and both are amazing, but I REALLY love the Celtic Thunder version. First, they do the ‘extra’ verse that makes this song a creepy ghost story, not just a love song. Second, the harmonies in this version are gorgeous. And, third, this was a song they really nailed when I saw them perform it in Loveland. The Budweiser Events Center is not a very magical or romantic setting, certainly not a place I would choose to sit in for hours to hear Celtic Thunder if there was a nicer option available, but with this song, the entire stadium was silent and spell-bound till the last vibrating chord faded from the air, an effect most singing groups like to imagine happens every night and with most songs, but which in reality happens only a few times in a whole tour of shows. I’d have understood if this song didn’t make the cut, but I’m glad it is on the compilation album.
Many of my other favorite songs also made the cut, and some clearly feature the new guy, Emmett O’Hanlon. It is hard to tell just by listening casually sometimes, but many of the tracks on the compilation album are not just pulled from older albums, but are new recordings in which Emmett is singing lines that once belonged to Paul Byrom or Emmet Cahill. I suspect that a few other voices have changed a bit too from earlier recordings, since Neil Byrne wasn’t a lead singer until a few albums into Celtic Thunder’s history, and Damian McGinty’s voice is definitely not the one he started with in 2007-2008. I managed to be too broke to see Celtic Thunder in concert this year (and they were playing 2 shows, one in Denver and one in Colorado Springs, which is only 30 miles away!) so I have no idea how all my favorites worked in concert, but hopefully by the next tour I’ll be less broke (and/or maybe working for a publication that gets comp tickets or something).
I am torn between being hopeful and trying to wrangle a workable solution, and just giving up and admitting defeat, speaking of being broke (& stuck in Pueblo) and wanting to cover shows. The lineup for the Rocky Mountain Irish Festival was posted this week. A few years ago when this festival was in Fort Collins, I worked as a sort of supervolunteer for them, helping coordinate volunteers when the actual volunteer coordinator wasn’t available, taking photos (of course), and doing all sorts of other odd jobs as needed, not just for my 4-hr shift, but for the entire 3 day festival. It was fun, and I met some musicians and other people that weekend who have been great friends of mine ever since. So, it is no exactly a crazy idea to think I could maybe wind up working as a volunteer for this one coming up in June. But, 1) I am very broke, living on charity from my family, and 2) the festival is in Estes Park. Since I cannot drive, and I don’t know anyone who I could travel with, let alone anyone I could stay with overnight in Estes, the logistics are looking awfully daunting.
Why would I be agonizing over this festival, you ask? Well… the music entertainment for the first night of the festival is Colm Keegan and Lauran Durrant, of Celtic Thunder. The following night Keith Harkin (Celtic Thunder) and Barry Kerr (former Celtic Thunder) will be the night’s featured music entertainment. And, an equal draw for me, actually, my good friends, the Commoners, will be playing a set for the festival as well (though the festival’s website doesn’t say when they are playing, just that they’ll be there). I HATE interacting with musicians as a fan/celebrity thing, so while I’ve done the whole autograph line thing with Celtic Thunder a couple times now, it’s not really something I look forward to. But, at a festival like this one, especially if I was taking pictures as a volunteer or as press (if I take myself and my blog more seriously, enough to call myself press), that annoying uncomfortableness would be gone (mostly). I don’t know if I have the guts to turn up at the seisiun tent (like a jam session for Irish music) with my bodhran (Irish hand drum, a birthday present which I bought for myself a few years ago after watching Barry Kerr on a youtube video, late at night after I’d had a bit too much whiskey) in hand, but if I figure out how to make this year’s Irish festival work for me, maybe next year I’ll drag along my drum.