Virgin Tracks – Lisa Richard

Be careful what you wish for. When I reviewed Lisa Richard’s first CD, Born To Entertain, I suggested that, since the most interesting tracks were the lesser known pieces, it was a shame that she hadn’t chosen to stretch herself a bit more with some less familiar material. The voice itself is a pleasant, flexible instrument but the repertoire was the usual collection of showtunes, cabaret staples and sixties retreads into which more experienced performers would struggle to breath new life.

Be careful what you wish for…except sometimes.

Richard’s second recording is a collection of new and/or unfamiliar items. And it’s delightful. There are familiar names here – Steven Schwartz, John Bucchino, the Davids Zippel and Friedman – but most of the songwriters are as unfamiliar, to this listener at least, as the material. It is far from unheard of for a singer working in the pop standard territory to release a recording of this nature but it is still a brave move. Why should your average buyer invest in a recording by somebody they don’t know of songs they’ve never heard of? In this case they would be well advised to take the chance.

Two themes predominate. First, the collection seems designed to show of Richard’s versatility – she swings as effectively through the tricky melody and big band arrangement of "You Make Me Laugh" as she embraces the tender simplicity of a gentle ballad like "I Break So Easily" on which she is accompanied only by piano and John Acosta’s exquisite cello.

Secondly, she has chosen lyrics that tackle the perennial joys and trials of love and life from some unusual angles. "Never Have I" is a quite lovely song about a woman who has known many loves but never felt herself to be the center of anyone’s life: "never have I been someone’s melody, never have I been someone’s sky". "The Forgotten Of The Heart" addresses the realization of how easy it is to lose touch with those close to us and "A Sorta Love Song," which its lyricist Scott Burkell describes as an ‘ode to imperfection,’ is a charming little number about falling in love with somebody who seems to embody precisely none of the qualities you want in a man.

As on Richard’s previous release, the arrangements are classy, varied and appropriate but the biggest selling point here is her voice. It is warm and rich with a gorgeous lower register. Her take on each song is thoughtful yet spontaneous and the material is varied and generally pretty strong. The one tune that might be familiar to some is the CD’s opener, "Another Mr. Right Left." While it certainly qualifies as a relative obscurity, it does appear on Barbara Cook’s It’s Better With A Band album. The number’s new incarnation benefits from one of Richard’s strongest performances and I can pay her no higher compliment than to say she need not fear comparisons with its previous interpreter.

–Mark Jennett