REVIEW: Back to My Roots - Kate Rockwell
Kate Rockwell’s debut solo album Back to My Roots is an ode to the “Second Golden Age of Broadway,” which Rockwell defines as the 1970s-1990s. I’ll leave it to others to decide if it was such a Golden Age, but regardless, Rockwell’s album is a smooth and polished orchestrated album (a bit of throwback to Bruce Kimmel’s Fynsworth Alley solo discs), full of both well-known and lesser-recorded Broadway songs. The album shoots out of the gate with a brassy rendition of Cy Coleman’s “Hey There Good Times” from I Love My Wife. From there through the next six songs, it’s one up tempo song after another: a saucy “Bring on the Men” from the better-left-forgotten Jekyll and Hyde, a mashup of “I Know Things Now” from Into the Woods and “Now You Know” from Merrily We Roll Along, and then two numbers from Falsettos: “I’m Breaking Down” and a song typically sung by a man, “The Games I Play.” Rockwell brings panache, exuberance, and excitement to each of these tracks. Rockwell’s Falsettos numbers are followed by a duet with Ariana DeBose on “What You Don’t Know About Women” from City of Angels, before tackling the mother of all-belt songs, “Buenos Aires” from Evita. If all this sounds like an exhausting listen so far, it is. Perhaps the album should have been titled “Back to My Belt,” because while Rockwell has an astounding full gorgeous belt (Seth Rudetsky would be in heaven), the album could stand from a bit more variety or at least some better ordering of the tracks.
The album happily takes a slightly (emphasis on slightly) more relaxed turn with “Song on the Sand” from La Cage aux Folles, another overlooked gem from this “Second Golden Age,” but here Rockwell’s phrasing feels hurried, rather than indulging in the supple beauty of Jerry Herman’s tender lyrics and letting the song breathe. Showing her affection for the British hits of the 1980s, a medley entitled “Schoenberg Lloyd Webber” cleverly weaves together songs from Les Miserables, Cats, and The Phantom of the Opera, tunes which have been heard so often that if it were not for the medley’s inventiveness would be worth skipping all together. The album ends (sort of) with “Unexpected Song” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Song & Dance. Rockwell’s approach to the song, however, is not “unexpected,” and like the other tracks here, rather than embracing the inherent fragility and tenderness of the song (as Bernadette Peters did in her Tony Award-winning take on the number), turns this song into, you guessed it, a number with a big loud finish.
Rockwell is clearly a talented and gifted singer blessed with an amazing vocal instrument, but some more judicious musical direction and song selection would have made for a more well-rounded album. Spoiler alert: the album features a final hidden track that may be its best: "Times Like This” from Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’s Lucky Stiff. Accompanied simply by acoustic guitar, Rockwell’s rendition is sweet, moving, and tender and like the track itself, a welcome surprise, in what is otherwise an enjoyable if overly showy collection of songs.
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Back to My Roots - 2018 Kate Rockwell City of Angels Falsettos Les Misérables Cats La Cage aux Folles Song & Dance The Phantom of the Opera Lucky Stiff Merrily We Roll Along Jekyll & Hyde Evita Into the Woods I Love My Wife Kate Rockwell Ariana DeBose Lynn Ahrens Bruce Kimmel Seth Rudetsky Bernadette Peters Andrew Lloyd Webber Jerry Herman Stephen Flaherty Cy Coleman Hey There, Good Times (6) I Know Things Now (7) Bring on the Men (8) Buenos Aires (45) Times Like This (5) The Games I Play (4) Now You Know (9) What You Don't Know About Women (6) Unexpected Song (24) Song on the Sand (18) I'm Breaking Down (4) Toggle Additional (32)