REVIEW: Anika Larsen's Sing You to Sleep
In the liner notes to her new album Sing You to Sleep, Anika Larsen tells listeners that they can “play this album on shuffle, but if you play it in order, you’ll find the songs get slower as they go along.” Larsen’s right about the speed of the songs; but the album, a pleasing mix of easy listening, pop, and musical theater standards, also gets better as it goes on, becoming more honest, emotionally naked, and truthful with each track.
While not a household name, Larsen has made an impressive career on Broadway (All Shook Up, Xanadu, Avenue Q) and can be currently seen in Beautiful, a musical for which she received a Tony nomination for best featured actress. To many fans she is known for her rangy belt, but this album of tender and sensitively interpreted tunes shows off a different, warmer side to her voice. To appreciate this though, one has to get past the first two tracks on the album, a rather uninspired version of the Gershwins’ “Summertime” and a jazz-inflected, but awkwardly arranged “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tail. After that, the album quiets down with arrangements by David Cook that are both lovely and refreshingly simple. Larsen offers up a great take on Bruno Mars’ “Count on Me” and a gorgeous new cover of one of musical theater’s most overlooked songs “Sleepy Man” from The Robber Bridegroom. Eschewing pop phrasing and vocal tricks, Larsen trusts in the lyrics of her well-chosen playlist and sings with heart, not with flash.
Adding to the album are some nice backup vocals from Kenita Miller (who shared the stage with Larsen in Xanadu) and a perfectly harmonized duet with current Beautiful co-star Jessie Mueller on James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes.” Pared down to their essentials, well-known songs like the plaintive “Fields of Gold” by Sting and a haunting version of John Denver’s “Annie’s Song,” sound completely fresh as if we’re hearing them for the first time. Larsen's moving rendition of Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" closes the disc.
All in all, Larsen’s album is a great listen. Perhaps its title Sing You to Sleep is a bit unfortunate, though, because while the album’s relaxing feel might be great for bedtime, it’s definitely a recording that you’ll want to stay awake for.
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Sing You to Sleep - 2014 Anika Larsen The Robber Bridegroom Avenue Q All Shook Up Xanadu An American Tail Beautiful: The Carole King Musical Jessie Mueller David Cook Kenita Miller John Denver Anika Larsen James Taylor Sting Bob Dylan Summertime Sleepy Man (12) Somewhere Out There Toggle Additional (15)