Les Mis legend John Owen-Jones has a new album out on Monday, entitled Rise. If only 1 March had been a Monday in 2015, but the day after St. David's Day will do just as well for such a proud Welshman!
In his recent interview for www.thoughtsofjustafan.com, John told how he came to choose the tracks included on the album:
It's a lengthy process actually. I spent a year putting together various tracklistings with various concepts attached to them but in the end went for a tracklisting that had variety. At one point I had a Rolling Stones track, something from a very rarely performed musical, an opera track, a prog rock track...the list goes on. But I very much wanted the album to be cohesive and some songs I really liked just didn't fit well enough with some of my favourites. So they had to go. Hopefully I'll use them down the line somewhere.
Great explanation of why these particular songs were chosen and on the whole I think he's chosen well. The idea of the title track, Conchita Wurst's Rise Like a Phoenix sounds a bit odd but when you listen to John singing it, it sounds fantastic, very Bondesque which is what they were after I understand. The last note alone is worth the price of the album - just think Thunderball, which is on John's previous album, Unmasked.
As you would expect from an established West End star, musical choices feature quite heavily on the album, although it is nice to see some less well known songs from shows like Pippin which I enjoyed a lot. Empty Chairs, from Les Mis is a revelation; gentle when necessary, powerful when called for, this version brings a lot of emotion to the table (pardon the pun) and for me, is the best recording since Michael Ball in the original. Bui Doi from the revitalised Miss Saigon is also powerful yet emotional - I loved it.
There are two duets on the album, both from musicals: Ruthie Henshall on For Good from Wicked and Madelena Alberto on Once's Falling Slowly. Of the two, I feel that For Good is the more successful as it complements their voices perfectly and brings out the chemistry that the two performers have.
These were the stand out tracks on Rise for me but my out and out favourite is MotherlessChild. I didn't recognise the song by name but when I heard it, I realised that I had heard it many times before. Many, many artists have covered it but my favourites are Mahalia Jackson and Tom Jones - John Owen-Jones has now joined my list of favourites. Another strong track is You Are So Beautiful...and it is.
As already noted, John is a proud Welshman and there is a strong Welsh presence here. Two of the bonus tracks are Welsh language versions of two of John's most famous musical songs, Bring Him Home and Music of the Night which are head and shoulders above his arrangement of Bread of Heaven. Maybe it's because I'm a traditionalist hymn lover at heart but neither of the arrangements on the two hymns featured are a winner - sorry John!
Overall, Rise is a great album with good song choices and beautiful vocals by John Owen-Jones and should appeal to lovers of good music everywhere, not just those who love musical theatre.
This review originally appeared on www.thoughtsofjustafan.com.