Cheyenne Jackson: Renaissance

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Cheyenne Jackson


(PS Classics)

September 27, 2016

Reviewed by John Hoglund for Cabaret Scenes

cheyenne-jackson-cabaret-scenes-magazine_212PS Classics has released Cheyenne Jackson’s new album, Renaissance. It is an interesting potpourri of songs, with assorted arrangers, adapted from Music of the Mad Men Era, his concert act that he’s toured with over the past few years. The album also has Jane Krakowski on a duet and a lush 22-piece orchestra.

The loose concept comes from the demise of an era that saw the end of Hollywood’s golden age and the rise of Las Vegas’ Rat Pack madness. While a few of the song choices on this uneven disc are questionable, considering the impressive range of his vocal talents, Jackson is in excellent voice throughout and can be magical on the right song. The large orchestra of exceptional musicians on this disc make it strong and impressive.

Particular standouts include a sensitive “Angel Eyes” (Matt Dennis/Earl Brent) gently arranged by Jonathan Bartz with a vocal trio (Michael Winther, Paul Castree, Jason Pintar). This enticing entry paints a subdued, romantic picture with supple nuances that can be haunting. Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” with restrained piano background from the flawless Tedd Firth, highlights Jackson’s talent for telling a story with yearning. (In his notes, he credits Diana Krall for inspiring this arrangement). Firth’s lilting piano also supports “Red Wine Is Good for My Heart,” a new song written with Michael Feinstein that captures the saloon loneliness that Sinatra built a lot of his career on. A strong big band arrangement (by Sam Shoup) on a silly “Americano” (Renato Carosone/Michael Himelstein/Nicola Salerno/Brian Setzer) is fun, but spotlights the orchestra more than Jackson. A serious “Besame Mucho” (Consuelo Velasquez) arranged by Fred Barton and sung in English, is effective .

Jane Krakowski joins on “Somethin’ Stupid” (C. Carson Parks) arranged by Tim Berens—another questionable choice. Once a sassy tune for Frank and Nancy Sinatra, here it is given a smooth treatment that works well as their voices blend nicely on a song that might have been risky in lesser hands. Leon Russell’s “A Song for You,” arranged by John Baxindine, smolders. This is a particular standout. Odd choices like a fluffy “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home” (Fred E. Ahlert/Roy Turk) don’t quite hit the mark when there are finer songs to choose from. “A Change Is Gonna Come” (arranged by Bartz) is given a busy R & B treatment that is well sung, but lacks the needed emotional heft (in spite of excessive falsetto and melisma forays) of this Sam Cooke classic. The beloved rocker, “Your Song” (Elton John/Bernie Taupin) caps the album with a great delivery that breathes new life into this gem. This works perfectly for his musical sensibilities and is the album’s finest cut. More would be welcome in future discs.

In spite of the impressive orchestral arrangements and obvious heart, a bit more depth is called for, as well as more consistently inspired selections. That aside, there is a thread of joy that connects Jackson to his songs with an exuberant flair and the promise of more to come.    

Kudos to the many gifted musicians and team for an outstanding job, and especially to Kevin Stites for conducting and to Tedd Firth for his piano genius.

John Hoglund

For over 30 years, John Hoglund has been a respected entertainment writer covering cabaret, jazz, theater and recordings. His writings have appeared in numerous outlets including the Bistro Bits column for Back Stage. John moderated seminars and forums for the International Cabaret Conference At Yale. He produced many celebrity fundraisers in NYC including one of the first benefits after 9/11: “HeartSong:The Heroes' Concert” at The Bottom Line featuring 36 major stars. He co-produced “HeartSong2: The Heroes' Concert” for Katrina victims at Symphony Space and “Miracle On 35th Street” with a star-studded lineup. Other fund raising efforts include the first benefits for Broadway Cares and God's Love, We Deliver. John served on the Board of Directors of MAC for 12 years. He is well known for championing new and rising talents.