REVIEW: Lullabies of Broadway, Act II -- Mimi Bessette

Recording CoverDo you remember the state of "personality albums" circa 1990? It would not be an overstatement to call that the Dark Ages, falling between the period when Broadway stars were big enough celebrities that their names alone could sell records to the general public and the renaissance that began in 1993 when Bruce Kimmel launched the Varèse Sarabande Spotlight Series with Liz Callaway's Anywhere I Wander. And yet, at a time when few singers and even fewer record companies were making these albums, Warner Brothers Records put out singer Mimi Bessette's self-produced Lullabies of Broadway.

Now, nearly 30 years later, Bessette has released a follow-up, Lullabies of Broadway, Act II, this time guided by veteran cast album producer Robert Sher and released by Broadway Records. Children who grew up listening to her original album have children of their own now, and the new generation will be lucky to find themselves soothed to sleep by this new addition, which is in every way superior to the original.

Those unfamiliar with Bessette, who was most recently seen on Broadway in Bonnie and Clyde, are in for a treat. Her voice has just the suggestion of a twang, with a timbre reminiscent of Betty Buckley's younger days. If some of her songs have just a whisper of a country inflection, it's a welcome change of pace in an era overrun with pop riffs. She brings a grounded earthiness to her repertoire, which keeps the lullabies from floating off into the ether as some lullabies are wont to do.

She has an able partner in her music director and arranger David Hancock Turner, who has provided a spectrum of charts that stretches from jazz to bluegrass to pop without ever betraying the "lullaby" mission statement. This variety of textures is facilitated by songs representing a diverse range of musicals from Annie Get Your Gun to Wonderland to Waitress. I suspect many listeners will have a similar experience to mine, repeatedly thinking "oh, yes, I love this song!" as each track begins with another familiar but far from overdone tune, like Come Down from The Tree or The Colors of My Life. And while the album may be mellow, but it never dips into treacle. While the album may have been created with children in mind, it is far from a kiddie record.

Most of the album features a small band – a nice upgrade from the original album's synthesizers – but even the songs such as The Rainbow Connection that are accompanied only by piano have such full, satisfying arragements that they never feel undernourished. Bessette has brought along two guest vocalists as well: Luca Padovan (School of Rock on Broadway, You on television) sounding like an angel in a Secret Garden medley, and David Lutken (Woody Sez) adding depth to I Can't Wait from Bright Star.


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