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Wide Awake and Dreaming

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Album Review

Following a path forged by many other successful Broadway musical performers, Rebecca Spencer walked out of the theater and into the studio to record her solo debut, Wide Awake and Dreaming; and like most discs by her contemporaries, the resulting album capitalizes on her theatrical image and concentrates on a set of songs that include show tunes and standards. In her collaboration with pianist Philip Fortenberry, Spencer has made the smart decision to avoid traditional Broadway belters in order to focus on lesser-known songs from forgotten shows, like The Mystery of Edwin Drood ("Moon Fall"). The selections avoid cliché and fit well among her interesting takes on pop songs and standards, such as the pairing of Marilyn and Alan Bergman's "On My Way to You" with "I've Got You Under My Skin." Opening the disc is the lovely title track, in which Spencer tones down her theatrical voice and simply sings the lyrics in a gentle tone that is refreshing and breezy. The same could be said for her rendition of "Solla Sollew," from Seussical: The Musical, where she takes a simplistic Broadway lullaby and turns it into a song of longing and hope. She also benefits from Fortenberry's reserved piano accompaniment that, at times, is akin to the work of George Winston. However, there is a vast difference between Spencer's soothing pop voice and the forceful stage vibrato she uses to tarnish a golden song like Judy Collins' "Houses." When Spencer increases in volume or emotion, she unleashes an operatic voice that is more suited for a Gilbert and Sullivan performance, and the results tend to detract from the more subtle aspects of her voice, thus creating a vocal inconsistency throughout the disc. Even more disruptive is Spencer's head-on collision with the Camille Saint-Saëns classical piece "Le Cygne," paired here with the hummed melody of "An Affair to Remember." While it is admirable to show range, the shrillness of voice and the style of the piece are out of place amid such standards as "A Taste of Honey," reinvented here as a ballad of haunting beauty with an expressive vocal that leaves behind all traces of Broadway flair. Extraordinary moments such as this leave no question that Rebecca Spencer possesses a wonderful instrument, and that she is adept at selecting interesting pieces. However, it is the inconsistency in how she chooses to sing certain songs that keeps Wide Awake and Dreaming from being a remarkable debut.

Wide Awake and Dreaming, Rebecca Spencer
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