(Yellow Sound Label)
August 5, 2016
Reviewed by John Hoglund for Cabaret Scenes
Broadway’s Jose Llana has released his new album Altitude on the Yellow Sound Album label. Having played President Marcos in the Off-Broadway production of Here Lies Love and the roles of the King and Lun Thau in a productions of The King & I on Broadway and, after twenty years experience in various shows, this is a special event for the talented singer. Predictably, as with many musical theater artists, the disc gives a big nod to musicals and songs by old and new favorite composers including Leonard Bernstein, Comden & Green, William Finn, Adam Guettel, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Sondheim, as well as diverse cuts by David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim, Billy Joel, Ed Sheeran and Amy Wadge.
The selections are all interesting, with some cuts stronger entries than others. Llana’s powerful theater voice is in the lyric baritone range. He is particularly effective on the likes of a longing “Lonely Town” (On the Town), a perfect “We Kiss in a Shadow” fused with “I Have Dreamed” (both from The King & I), and his acting style is well suited for anything Sondheim, as on “Marry Me a Little.” The album has three cuts devoted to Adam Guettel, all from Saturn Returns: A Concert, that are solid entries: “Saturn Returns,” “Icarus,” and a great turn on “Hero and Leander.” A delightful, lively quasi-patriotic number called “Child of the Philippines” (Here Lies Love)—a full-throttle duet with socio-political overtones sung with his co-star from that show, Ruthie Ann Miles—is a solid winner.
But his very best moments are heard on a few more personalized, non-theatrical songs, like Ed Sheeran/Amy Wadge’s “Thinking Out Loud.” Here, warm vocals and phrasing are beautifully expressive in this unique love song about finding love and staying together. Llana does a superb job on the Billy Joel overlooked “Lullaby (Good Night My Angel).” Bearing his soul on such intimate songs reveals a more sensitive, heartfelt side that is tender and trenchant, as opposed to the requisite big-belting Broadway numbers that often call for more singing than acting.
It’s no secret that having a good voice is only a part of what’s needed to be a good singer. Other ingredients include wholesome interpretive abilities paired with a uniqueness that makes an artist and a performance stand out. Jose Llana obviously has what it takes to stand out from that crowd. Hopefully, he will do more studio work and share even more of his heart with just a tad less of his impressive acting skills. He knows when to relax into a storytelling mode and, when he does, the results are fantastic.
The band deserves kudos for an excellent job, with Kimberly Grigsby as musical director/pianist, Jack Bashkow (woodwinds), Pete Donovan (bass), Kevin Garcia (drums), Simon Kafka (guitar), with Jaygee Macapugay, Jeigh Madjus and Enrico Rodriguez on background vocals.