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Product: Audio CD
Title: Bridge Over Troubled Water/This Is The Night
Label: RCA
Artist: Clay Aiken
Rating: 5/5
Customer rating - 5 out of 5
Clay schmay

Clay has the most amazing voice I have ever heard. He is a incredible singer with staying power. When I went to the American Idol tour last night Clay sang "This is the Night" and I was almost moved to tears because it was so beautiful. Although he did not sing "Bridge Over Troubled Water", I, of course, have heard it tons of times and it is still as amazing as the first time I heard it. Mostly it's the way Clay belts out the word "mind" at the end of the song. It just gives me goosbumps. He is one of the most talented singers I have ever heard.

Product: Audio CD
Title: Rock 'n' Roll [Bonus Tracks]
Label: Capitol
Artist: John Lennon
Rating: 4/5
Customer rating - 4 out of 5
More satisfying than most Lennon CDs

Perhaps it's just that this is where it all began with him, but Lennon tackles this collection with more ardent affection and inspiration than he did most of his own material. McCartney and Harrison had the same affectionate nostalgia for the musics they grew up with. Don't we all? Anyway, this is a wonderful tribute to old chestnuts delivered with passion. The stand out track is, of course, "STand By Me", but the rest of the material and the additional tracks are compelling.
I believe this is the set where Lennon brought Tony Levin on to play bass, admonishing him not to play like McCartney. Can you imagine? Like asking Beethoven not play like Haydn. PIss off, matey. It's a wonder Levin didn't ram a 4 string Fender up JL's liverpool. But there is no credit to the musicians on this set (come on, Yoko, what did these guys ever do). The production is Phil Spector-ish wall of noise, but Lennon carries on with brio and commitment and carries the day. It goes a long way towards re-directing Lennon as a songwriter, a process that would germinate for several years before "Starting Over" would announce a promising solo career at last. But, then...

Product: Audio CD
Title: Chemical Wedding
Label: Cmc International
Artist: Bruce Dickinson
Rating: 5/5
Customer rating - 5 out of 5
Live after Maiden

No simple riffs. No repetitiveness. No crap. So this isn't nu-metal then!
Most of you will have heard of Iron Maiden, and for those of you who don't know, Bruce was the lead singer of the band for about ten years - most of and certainly the best period of the bands career. He left around 1993 but has now rejoined Maiden (along with Adrian Smith, Maiden guitarist who left about 3 years before him). From then to now, Dickinson formed his own band - which contained Adrian Smith.
However, Iron Maiden connection there may be, this doesn't actually sound much like them at all. I admit that this was recorded in 1998, so perhaps his earlier work is more similar. This is distinctly heavier and more chuggy - it reminds me of Entombed more than Iron Maiden. The riffs are great, the songs are well stuctured, the leads are fantastic (both from Smith and Roy Z) and while this is not quite a classic (it still doesn't beat Maiden's "7th Son Of A 7th Son" album) it is still a damn good album.
Put it this way, Iron Maiden were excellent until Smith left and they released 2 sub-standard albums and two pretty awful live albums, where even Maiden classics weren't enjoyable to listen to. After these, Dickinson left and they released 2 other terrible CDs. The fact that at the same time, Dickinson and Smith were making music that lived up to Maidens classic career is saying something about the duo that made Maiden work - even if it was Steve Harris (Maiden bass bod) who wrote many of Maiden's songs and not this duo.
If you're a metal fan then you'll love this. To me, this album might show why Dickinson left Maiden; because he wanted a new sound and a change in direction. Bear in mind that as a band musically, Maiden were stagnant at the time of release of this album and you'll see what I mean. This is a great album. Enough said!

Product: Audio CD
Title: Dreamgirls in Concert (2001 Concert Cast)
Label: Nonesuch
Artist: Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell
Rating: 3/5
Customer rating - 3 out of 5
I guess.

Henry Krieger vies only with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Frank Wildhorn as a Broadway composer who inspires the most admiration with the least talent. People cherish DREAMGIRLS because it brings soul and funk to Broadway, but any number of people who wrote for the Spinners or Gladys Knight could have done much better, writing truly memorable songs and really pointed lyrics. DREAMGIRLS seduces by default only. It camouflaged a hack score with brilliant staging, a spicy concept, and great performers.
Thus the idea that the score begged for a full reading has always been more a truism than a truth -- and expanded to two CDs, we hear the thin, hokey pastiche that the score always was. Krieger followed DREAMGIRLS with THE TAP DANCE KID, a justifiably forgotten score with not a single memorable song, and his recent SIDE SHOW is esteemed because of its subject matter, not the incessantly paint-by-numbers music.
Thus what we have been properly waiting for in a full recording of DREAMGIRLS was a great RENDITION of it, because the material by itself doesn't add up to much. And unless you are so taken by the sheer existence of our one soul/funk book musical that its quality is beside the point (in which case, okay) or you have heard the original album so often that it's part of your blood (again, okay), then taken by itself, this double CD just ain't no party.
As for the men, for example, any number of black male performers, making their bread and butter doing stock performances of AIN'T MISBEHAVIN' , could score with such easy, obvious material. James Brown imitations, "Billy Dee" depressed-larynx "Baby, you're all I need" routines -- this isn't hard stuff. DREAMGIRLS is about the women.
And here, one problem is, of all things, Audra, as many reviewers here note. She is overall a fabulous, celestial performer; I cherish her in RAGTIME and MARIE CHRISTINE like any other show fan and follow her every move. Thank God for her. But the simple truth is that she is too contained and racially assimilated a lady to convincingly portray -- let's face it -- Diana Ross. She hits all of her marks -- but this is no working class gal on the way up, period. There is a certain something that you have to be born to, no questions asked.
Heather Headley, always leaping off of any recording, is great, and Lilias White in my view thoroughly matches Jennifer Holliday. Spending 20 years listening to the original recording -- and knowing about Holliday's rocky times -- one is tempted to consider her unbeatable, but really we are dealing with equal variants here. White's preciousness is summed up by one moment -- listen to her send a shiver up your spine with that one howl during her appointed response early in "Fake Your Way to the Top" -- that's just heaven speaking, period.
But then really, even with these great contributions, we find that even a great RENDITION of this thing can only go so far these days. The fact remains that 20+ years have gone by. Black women tearing up Broadway is no longer a novelty (none of these three women have exactly hurt for work these days), nor is modern pop any longer a brave gesture on the Great White Way (whereas DREAMGIRLS came along only about ten years after HAIR!). Thus today DREAMGIRLS can't coast on boldness or freshness -- we evaluate it as, simply, a piece.
And as such, it's a movie-of-the-week set to, mostly, dishwater music, put across by people capable of addressing much richer material even of an accessible variety. One even misses, sometimes, the up-close studio quality of the original recording, since this at least gave the music an immediacy and fatness that the concert feeling of the recording here cannot provide -- four-chord tunes set over 45-RPM beats suffer when recorded to sound like the orchestra did in the FOLLIES recording of 1985.
This recording will do. But I wish somebody would do a double CD of THE GOLDEN APPLE, or, perhaps more ? propos, HOUSE OF FLOWERS or Duke Ellington's QUEENIE PIE. Giving DREAMGIRLS the treatment is a gesture and good business; giving it to real works of art would speak to the ages.