Sophisticated sounds to elevate even the most pedestrian rep.
By Gregg Shapiro
Am I the only one who thinks that the concept for the self-titled disc by The Priests (RCA) sounds like the punchline to a joke? Something like, “Three priests walk into a recording studio. . . .” Of course, The Priests are no laughing matter. Taking time out of their busy schedules (there’s another sacreligious joke in there somewhere), Irish tenors/siblings Father Eugene O’Hagan and Father Martin O’Hagan and Father David Delargy recorded 14 tracks of sacred music (including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Pie Jesu” and Schubert’s “Ave Maria”), and officially joined the ranks of pop stars.
Much has been made of unlikely TV talent show diva Susan Boyle. But a couple of years before she became an Internet sensation, there was Paul Potts. The winner of the first season of Britain’s Got Talent, Potts paved the way for Boyle. On his domestic major-label debut Passione (Syco Music/Columbia), Potts shows off his pipes on songs including “La Prima Volta” (an Italian version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”), “Sei Con Me/There for Me” (a duet with Hayley Westenra), “A Time for Us” (Nino Rota’s dazzling love theme from Zefferelli’s Romeo & Juliet), Italian versions of “Whiter Shade of Pale,” “Memory,” as well as selections by Puccini, Chopin, and others.
The kings of classical crossover Il Divo maintain the status quo on The Promise (Syco Music/Columbia), their most recent release. Opera queens are sure to delight at the way they ratchet up the drama on “Adagio” and Abba’s “The Winner Takes It All,” and go the distance with Ennio Morricone’s “L’Alba Del Mondo” but don’t quite answer our prayers on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” A slightly schmaltzier (if that’s possible) all-female version can be found in the Three Graces, who have a self-titled (Decca) disc to their name.
Like The Section Quartet, East Village Opera Company works in the realm of the opera/rock hybrid. On Old School (Decca), they put Wagner through a Led Zeppelin process on “The Ride,” while Mozart is dipped in Queen on “King of the Night.” Handel’s “Help Me (Jove, in Pity)” and “Walk” turn out to be two of the most sweetly accessible tracks on the disc. Verdi gets funky on “Brindisi Libera (pop the cork),” while Bach sounds like he belongs in a Broadway musical on “You’re Not Alone.”
Britain’s got more talent than just Susan Boyle and Paul Potts. Competitors Escala, an all-female string quartet (remember Bond from a few years ago), are ready to sweep American audiences off their feet with their self-titled debut disc (Syco Music/Columbia). Drawing on an interesting range of material, including Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” (on which they are joined by Slash), Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die,” and the Nina Simone chestnut “Feeling Good,” as well as more classically minded compositions by Handel and Barber, Escala proves that they have pluck.
David Garrett is another young wizard of the strings and he burns them up on his new self-titled disc (Decca). He raises the temperature on Vivaldi’s “Summer” and follows it with an exquisite arrangement of “Nothing Else Matters” by none other than Metallica. Garrett also restrings the late Michael Jackson (“Smooth Criminal”), Queen (“Who Wants to Live Forever”), AC/DC (“Thunderstruck”), and Bill Withers (“Ain’t No Sunshine”), and narrowly avoids sounding like elevator music.
Like Escala, pianist William Joseph tries his hand at Zeppelin’s “Kashimir” and doesn’t do too much damage. It’s only one of two covers (the other is Morricone’s “Cinema Paradiso”), on Joseph’s Beyond (Reprise/143), which features a number of collaborations with David Foster (if you have the stomach for that).
Gregg Shapiro is a past recipient of the annual OutMusic award that recognizes contributions by non-musicians in furthering the work of LGBT performers.