Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Billy Porter Presents The Soul of Richard Rogers

Billy Porter Presents
The Soul of Richard Rodgers
Sony Masterworks

A quick and dirty description of this new recording by the Tony and Grammy Award winner Billy Porter is hip hop meets the classic songs of Richard Rodgers. Included are includes solos and duets from the a variety of artists  (in addition to Porter himself) including  Tony and Grammy Award winners Cynthia Erivo (The Color Purple), Renée Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton) and Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton), Tony Award-winner Patina Miller (Pippin), Grammy Award winners Pentatonix and India.Arie, Tony Award nominees Brandon Victor Dixon (Shuffle Along), Joshua Henry (Violet), and Christopher Jackson (Hamilton), alongside YouTube sensation and Kinky Boots star Todrick Hall and multiple Grammy Award nominees Deborah Cox and Ledisi.

"I like to think of this as the Richard Rodgers version of the Hamilton Mixtapes," Porter said.  "These are classic songs that everybody knows and loves, and I'm so excited for people to hear them in a brand new way." Certainly listening to Ledisi singing "Bewitched," the hip hop groove recasts a familiar melody, elongating and transforming it as well as incorporating an explicit rap from Zaire Park. India.arie sings "Carefully Taught," from the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic musical "South Pacific" and its 1949 lyric is unfortunately so relevant today, "You got to be taught to hate and fear; You got to be taught from year to year; It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear; You got to be carefully taught." Porter himself provides the lovely interpretation of "Edelweiss" from "The Sound of Music," and a brief narration notes that the flower exists in the harshest of environment and reminds us we must flourish in the harshest of times, again not only reworking the song for contemporary tastes, but showing its continued relevance,

There is the hip hop rendition of "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" with a politically charged rap mixed with the singing of the lyrics. Not everything has political connotations as the dreamy duet between Renée Elise Goldsberry & Christopher Jackson on "If I Loved You," Cynthia Erivo's lovely "My Funny Valentine," or Porter's interpretation of "The Lady Is a Tramp," with a Zaire Park rap playing off the lyrics, incorporated in this performance. Then there is Pentatonix's optimistic and spirited take on "What a Beautiful Morning."

Billy Porter has put together this imaginative re-imagination of some classic songs that are well established parts of the American Songbook, and these performances show the contemporary relevance of these songs in introducing them to new audiences. At the same time, there is no question that some will be put off by the musical settings and there are some explicit raps on a couple of tracks on a very intriguing recording.

I received a review download from a publicist. This review appeared in the September-October 2017  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here Billy Porter and others talk about this recording.

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