REVIEW: Jessica Vosk - Wild and Free

Recording CoverYou might not yet be familiar with the name Jessica Vosk. As a performer whose most significant credits are Fruma-Sarah in the Fiddler revival and the 20th Broadway Elphaba, she hasn't yet had the opportunity to breakout and ascend to true Broadway stardom. If we live in a just universe, her debut album, Wild and Free, would be that opportunity.

Vosk has the kind of backstory that press agents dream about: she left a successful Wall Street career in her twenties to pursue showbiz, working her way quickly up the musical theatre ladder while amassing a cult following of fans and establishing herself as a first-rate cabaret performer. Those fans rallied with remarkable speed to crowdfund this album while she was touring the country in Wicked, and now the album drops not long after she stepped into the Broadway production.

But none of that would matter if she didn't have the chops, and let me tell you, she has the best chops this side of Peter Luger. What's amazing about this album is how comfortably it sits at the intersection of pop and Broadway. Without looking at the liner notes, I'm not sure I'd be able to identify that "A Million Dreams" came from a musical rather than the pop charts -- or that "Brand New Key" didn't. Vosk approaches both with an equal (which is to say total) commitment to musicianship and storytelling. With songs from The Bridges of Madison County, Chess, Company, Funny Girl, The Greatest Showman, The Secret Garden, and Waitress, showtune devotees are well served. But the pop songs representing artists ranging from Billy Joel, Elton John and the Beatles to Sia, Jessie J, Bonnie Raitt, and Prince demonstrate Vosk's versatility and tease at an exciting career to come for this powerhouse.

The six instrumentalists, led by Mary-Mitchell Campbell (also a co-producer and one of the primary arrangers on the album), provides a full sound that belies its compact size, sounding much more like a pop band than a chamber ensemble despite its string-heavy makeup. You won't believe that their stirring "Nobody's Side" isn't a full orchestra, and I had to listen to the album several times before realizing that "Love Has No Pride" is sung with just a solo piano. (The only track I wish had a slightly larger orchestration is "The Music That Makes Me Dance;" the solo piano arrangement for this number leaves me with the feeling I am listening to a demo rather than a final product. I will gladly wait for Vosk to give it another go when she records her inevitable "Vosk at Carnegie Hall" album with a full orchestra.)

Producers Michael Croiter and Robbie Rozelle (full disclosure: he's a friend) have really upped the game for Broadway Records with this release. While Vosk could have easily released a live album of one of her excellent cabaret shows, the care she and her team put into assembling a studio album (which draws its repertoire from all of Vosk's cabaret outings and then some) is a gift to the listener. And Vosk sounds born for the studio, which better showcases not only her blow-the-roof-off belt but also her ability to sing intimately as though a song is a private conversation between the singer and her audience of one.


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