Ballads is a great title for an album full of slow tempo, beautifully arranged, songs of love and romance. So it's a perfect choice as the title for British singer Liane Carroll's album. Except that it falls way short of communicating just what an achievement this album is.
Carroll's previous album, Up And Down (Quiet Money, 2011), was a superb combination of upbeat, up-tempo numbers and emotionally intense takes on songs including "My Funny Valentine" and Tom Waits
' "Take It With Me." Ballads is firmly in the latter territory. James McMillan's production is once again exemplary. It's rare to hear vocals recorded with such clarity, where every aspect of the singer's voice is open to scrutiny. It's fraught with danger: what if the singer's voice is revealed as lacking, as falling short, as weak? Daft questions in this case; the exposure simply enhances Carroll's impact.
There's so much to enjoy on Ballads: old school standards like "Only The Lonely," pop classics (Gerry Goffin and Carole King's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" and Felice and Boudleaux Bryant's "It's Raining In My Heart") and lesser-known gems such as Sophie Bancroft's "Calgary Bay." There's variety, too, in Carroll's musical accompaniments. On "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" there's just Mark Jaimes' guitar and Kirk Whalum
's tenor saxophone. On "Only The Lonely" she's joined by a big band, while on "Goodbye," "You've Changed" and "Calgary Bay" the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra provide the accompanimentthe arrangements for all four of these numbers coming courtesy of Grammy nominated Chris Walden.
Todd Rundgren's "Pretending To Care" is a tour-de-force but it's Noel Coward's "Mad About The Boy" that shines most brightly among these jewels. It's a song with a seemingly endless ability for re-invention. Coward's performance is marvellously high camp (Marianne Faithfull's version runs it a close second); Dinah Washington
's piano for companyis heartbreaking. She sings as though she's aware of the futility of her desire but unwilling, or unable, to leave it behind. It shows the greatness of Coward's little ditty, the many emotions that the song can revealand the majesty of Carroll's voice. It's just one highlight of many on this exquisite album: Ballads is a classic-in-waiting.
Track Listing: Here's To Life; Goodbye; Only The Lonely; Mad About The Boy; You've Changed; Pretending To Care; Calgary Bay; My One And Only Love; Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow; Two Lonely People; It's Raining In My Heart.
Personnel: Liane Carroll: vocals, piano (11); James McMillan: trumpet, vibes (1), keyboard (11); Mark Edwards, piano (2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8), celeste (1); Gwilym Simcock: piano (4); Mark Jaimes: guitar (1, 3, 9); Steve Pearce: bass (1); Roger Carey: bass (2, 5, 8); Mark Hodgson: bass (3); Chris Hill: bass (7, 11); Mark Fletcher: drums (2, 5, 8, 11); Ralph Salmins: drums (3); Kirk Whalum: tenor saxophone (9); Simon Gardner: trumpet (3); Noel Langley: trumpet (3); Andy Gathercole: trumpet (3); Andy Baxter: trumpet (3); Pete Beachill: trombone (3); Chris Dean: trombone (3); Pete North: trombone (3); Richard Whigley: trombone (3); Sammy Maine: saxophone (3); Patrick Clahar: saxophone (3); Julian Seigel: saxophone (3); Ben Castle: saxophone (3); Jamie Talbot: saxophone (3); City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (2, 5, 7).