REVIEW: Songs From Inside My Locker - Robbie Rozelle, Live at Feinstein's/54 BELOW

Recording CoverThe first line of designer/director/producer/singer Robbie Rozelle's liner notes for his debut cabaret album – "I never expected to be a performer" – might lead you to lower your expectations. There's no need: Songs From Inside My Locker – a Kickstarter-funded live recording of Rozelle's show at New York's 54 Below – is a delight. It's a brave show for Rozelle to put out there as the basis of his first solo recording – the show's backbone is Rozelle's own coming-of-age story, which inevitably means this album presents the listener with a very personal collection of songs and stories – but Rozelle is such an endearing, engaging presence that this hour or so in his company flies by.

You might well have spotted the influence of Charles Nelson Reilly and Paul Lynde on Rozelle's performing style before he invokes them, but there are plenty of worse role models, and the Charles Nelson Reilly/Paul Lynde medley – arranged by Rozelle and his music director, Josh D. Smith, and made up of Coffee Break, A Veritable Smorgasbord, It Only Takes A Moment, and Kids – is absolutely charming. Other highlights include a lovely, sweet take on If I Only Had A Brain, an Aged-Out Medley of musical theatre roles Rozelle is now too old to play, and a moving rendition of William Finn's gorgeous I Have Found (from his score for The Royal Family of Broadway).

Rozelle is a terrific storyteller; if his singing occasionally has more enthusiasm than polish, there's nevertheless a strong voice there, and he certainly knows how to deliver a song. There's a terrific six-piece band – led by Smith, who also provided the arrangements – and a very entertaining guest turn from Maya Days and Bonnie Milligan, Rozelle's “emotional support belters"; best of all, a medley of Tomorrow and Here Comes The Sun finds new layers in both songs, and the story Rozelle tells to link them together is very touching indeed. Rozelle clearly has an excellent rapport with his audience; there are always pluses and minuses to live recordings, and there are places here where the sound isn't absolutely pristine, but this album manages the difficult trick of putting you in the room, making you feel part of the event. Live cabaret albums don't get much better than this.


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