Reviews & Press
Rebecca Spencer follows up her absolutely gorgeous 2003 album, Wide Awake and Dreaming, with a new dozen-song offering that is even better. There is something unavoidably entrancing about her voice, whether she’s lowering the register and enticing us with a sexy allure or lightening the sound and captivating the ear with the elegant beauty of her tones. And when you add in Philip Fortenberry’s exceptional piano arrangements and accompaniment, the effects are dazzling.
With the melody of the traditional Shaker song Simple Gifts setting the mood, Spencer launches into a richly powerful performance of The Girl Who Used to Be Me that’s the most effective and affecting version these ears have heard. From there, Spencer, Fortenberry and Keith Thompson’s luxuriant cello orchestrations craft a musical voyage of surprising stops as they mix an artful take on Stardust/Deep Purple and spine-tingling interpretation of Summertime with a reflective You Must Love Me and less country-flavored version of Lorrie Morgan’s Something In Red. But as fine as these selections are, it’s in the unknown territory that Spencer takes us where we experience the most amazement. A quartet of songs by Thompson allow Spencer to truly wow us -- the housewife’s lament found in the artful Instead (wonderfully supported by Chopin Nocturne in E flat, Op.9 No. 2), the lovely theatre homage The Memory, a woman’s observations on life around her expressed in Virginia’s Response and the rousing Eat, Drink and Be Mary.
So what do all these songs have to do with each other? The collection was inspired by a group of women Spencer observed in Weston, Vermont who call themselves “The Red Hat Society,” all of whom dress in purple and wear “radiant red hats” and hold to the philosophy that life is just beginning at age 50. Well, Spencer’s musical celebration of life is certainly a fitting soundtrack for them. (****)~ Jeff Rossen
…a sensuous and passionate vocal performance – a quietly classy album~ Anthony Del Valle
With the underlying theme of living life fully, with familiar tunes woven through instrumentally, this album, too, has the feel of a song cycle. In her liner notes, Rebecca says what is attempted is "a tapestry of music with contemporary art song interpretations." The tapestry she has created works like a strongly reflective story, with a beginning, a middle and an end. The cello playing throughout the album holds everything together and is a beautiful asset and anchor. The ethereal beauty plus power will come as no surprise if you're familiar with Rebecca from her work on cast albums or her first solo CD, the delightful Wide Awake and Dreaming. You'll know she's a soprano with range and power. She takes chances and has a taste for the unusual and the traditional. Working again with versatile pianist/musical director Philip Fortenberry, the elegant pair mix the very well-known (here, Summertime and Stardust) with the unexpected. There are four premieres, all with music by Keith Thompson who also did the cello orchestrations. The rich recital succeeds in delivering its message of embracing and appreciating the important things in life. This album, which the artist's liner notes prominently states is "dedicated to the human spirit," is not a project tossed off casually. Formal? Certainly. Earnest? Quite. And also quite moving.~ Rob Lester