Wednesday, July 2, 2014

CD Review: David Campbell Sings John Bucchino (Social Family Records/Luckiest Records)

By Harry Forbes

The many fans of David Campbell -- the Aussie singer and actor who, in the late 1990s, lit up New York’s cabaret and theater scenes, including roles in Sondheim’s “Saturday Night” and Encores’ “Babes in Arms” -- will be excited to learn he’s just issued a new album (his first in three years), and it’s a beauty.

Back in the day, Campbell had always showed an affinity for the work of composer John Bucchino, and indeed two of the songs on the present album – “Grateful” and “Taking the Wheel” – can also be found in fully orchestrated versions on his 1997 Philips album named after the latter.

And here, sensitively and definitively accompanied by Bucchino on piano, Campbell’s voice sounds as pristine as before, his high notes still lustrous while taking an occasional dip into an attractive lower register. There’s also, of course, the pleasure of the heightened interpretive skills that come with maturity.

In any case, those two songs and nine others register strongly, each one a little gem. Bucchino’s lyrics have a way of saying much with wonderful economy: “Yes we have come from a long way, Some say wrong way,” to cite but one instance.

The opening track, the haunting and heartbreaking “Sweet Dreams,” with its captivating melody, sets the tone for the classy program that follows, including the poignant “Unexpressed,” about channeling unrequited feelings of love into human kindness; “Better Than I,” a rueful song of dawning self-realization from the animated “Joseph: King of Dreams” for which Campbell sang for Ben Affleck’s character; the warmly sentimental “It Feels Like Home”; and the bittersweet “If I Ever Say I’m Over You.”

In these, Bucchino’s lyrics are never mawkish, and Campbell’s empathetic performances similarly avoid overt sentimentality.

The song list is nicely varied with lighter numbers such as the playful and jazzy “Puddle of Love” which particularly showcases Bucchino’s virtuoso playing; the rhythmic “Learn How to Say Goodbye” with its wise and perceptive lyric (so characteristic of Bucchino’s output overall); the bluesy “What You Need”; and so on. Campbell handles the fast patter of “Taking the Wheel” as deftly as ever in a beautifully phrased reading.

This is one of those perfect unions of singer and material. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait another three years for Campbell’s next release.

(Available on iTunes and Amazon worldwide.)
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