Sunday, September 5, 2010

Renee Fleming’s “Dark Hope”

Track List:

1. Endlessly
2. No One's Gonna Love You
3. Oxygen
4. Today
5. Intervention
6. With Twilight As My Guide
7. Mad World
8. In Your Eyes
9. Stepping Stone
10. Soul Meets Body
11. Hallelujah

I have to say that I have enjoyed this CD tremendously! Some might think of this as a novelty record, but taken on its own terms its still quite a well-produced package.

Now I have never been a fan of indie rock, so how well Renee sings these songs compared to their original versions is unknown to me, and not really an issue in any case since I will never check them out myself if left to my own devices. Thus this CD presents an opportunity for me to explore great music from another genre, guided by the hand of a trusted artist that I am familiar with.

It has to be said though that once the listener gets over how different she sounds compared to her regular work, the vocal performance itself is not much of a showcase. One certainly shouldn’t expect belting histrionics like that of a Mariah Carey or Celine Dion, nor should you expect any interpolated high Cs. Rather, there’s a feeling of conscious effort not to venture into the head voice and sound “operatic” (except for one number for spooky effect), but otherwise her vocalisms mostly fall into the “safe” category.

But what she does bring to the table are fundamentals of good singing that are often taken as a luxury in most rock music, and what makes this such an enjoyable listen: crystal clear pronunciation (lyrics are provided in the CD booklet but hardly necessary), fuss-free musicality that still brings out the most in the tunes and lyrics, and a solid technique that never quavers no matter how high or loud it goes (certainly none of the growling or whining that we hear in so many pop-singers these days). Ironically these are the very qualities that Renee is criticized for lacking in her classical recordings, which goes to show that the occasional step off the beaten track can be benefitial.

David Kahne’s production is equally clean and wholesome, with a steady rock beat and guitars dressed-up with techno beeps and whirls. Perhaps these production values might seem anesthetic to true lovers of this genre, but the slick and attractive production is appreciated by a listener of Renee’s other recordings.

There are many highlights on this album, among them the Endlessly, the first single and Renee’s only attempt at dance music, the hippie optimism of Oxygen, Intervention is a sarcastic critique of (Christian) religious extremism from a family member’s eyes, the spooky With Twilight as My Guide (the one about honour killings where Renee sings “Devil Daughters”), and the gospel tinged In Your Eyes. A fun fact is that Renee's two daughters, Amelia and Sage, and her sister Rachelle sang back-up vocals (the diva probably made it a pre-requisite before signing on). Truth is that I’ve listened to this entire album numerous times in the past month and have enjoyed it tremendously, and so highly recommend that you give it a chance.

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