Album Review - Memphis the Musical (Original London Cast)

I've been eagerly awaiting the Memphis OLC cast album for months now. Looking longingly at the February 9th tile on my calendar, waiting for the release date. So you can imagine my surprise when I logged on to twitter this morning and saw people tweeting about how it was available to listen to now! Of course I headed straight to Spotify and amazingly, I saw that it had indeed been released early!

Naturally, I've had it on repeat ever since, and though I did originally plan to review the album on its own, while listening I noticed a couple of very interesting differences between the OLC and OBC, so below is a track by track comparison of the two (focusing of course on the newer release!)

Track 1
The first noticeable thing about this song on the OLCR is the addition of Simon Ray-Harvey's DJ intro. Backing vocals are much richer and more pronounced than those heard on the OBCR. As Delray, Rolan Bell gives a standout performance, and I am loving his vocal embellishments, especially in the last third of the song. His voice has a really different sound than that of J Bernard Calloway (Delray on the OBCR). While the on OBCR this song sounds wholly fun and celebratory, here Bell's voice has a more regretful, contemplative, aware tone.

Track 2
The Music of My Soul
Donnelly's voice sounds much younger than that of the OBC Huey (Chad Kimball). I did notice that sometimes words are not enunciated as much as I would have liked but I guess it adds to the overall effect. The lack of vocal embellishments is also noticeable, given how prominent they are in the live performance, but there are an abundance of growls! The he most noticable difference however is that there is NO FELICIA! It's such a shame given that The Music of My Soul is such a poignant moment in the show, because it's where they bond as characters! Therefore I think that leaving Felicia out of this song is an unusual choice to say the least! Especially given that on the OBCR Montego Glover and Chad Kimball's voices blend together so well, making the song a highlight.

Track 3
Scratch My Itch
Waylon Jacobs gives a lovely vocal performance! This song often suffers during the show as it is so enthusiastic and accompanies such complicated choreography, so it's nice to be able to hear the performance here.

Track 4
Ain't Nothin' but a Kiss
Beverley really attacks the vocals in this song. She's a real star and this shows through the charisma that she gives Felicia. There's also a lovely piano solo, but backing is understated in this song. Sadly, much as I wish Huey's vocals would be included in the Broadway album, I feel much the same here!

Track 5
That's not Possible
This song doesn't exist on the OBCR, so it's nice to hear it here. It would have also been nice to have 'Hello, my name is Huey' recorded but beggars can't be choosers I suppose. I LOVE the fact that the lines at the beginning are included at for a casual listener it puts the song in context. Such lovely vocals from everyone and I like that ensemble members have a chance to shine here too! This is such a hilarious moment for Jason Pennycooke's Bobby in the show, and it's captured well here.

Track 6
Everybody Wants to be Black on a Saturday Night
This is a fun song to listen too, and there are tight, clean vocals.

Track 7
Make Me Stronger
I always thought this song was unusual on the OBCR because of the way the tempo is constantly changing around as the different characters sing. It feels like a compilation of several songs, which works well on stage but I feel is less effective on the cast album. Nevertheless this is a fun listen. The ensemble is very strong and Claire Machin gives a good performance as Gladys, but overall I prefer Cass Morgan's vocals. Beverley Knight shines towards the end.

Track 8
Coloured Woman
A favourite song of mine on the OBCR due to Montego glover's haunting vocals. Beverley Knight gives an equally memorable performance in this song, which comes at a pivotal moment in the show. Music-wise, the backing is nice until the drama increases, then it feels slightly lacking. The lines 'Mama told me not to dream big/but mama lived her life running scared', are so emotional and in the show the music really swells, but on the OLCR this is not the case. I still get the chills though as it's SUCH an amazing moment. I did notice that the tempo feels a bit slow? Perhaps this is partly down to the understated backing.

Track 9
I love how prominent the backing vocals are here. This is another really fun moment in the show. On the OBCR Montego Glover's voice is more playful and bubbly whereas Beverley Knight's Felicia is much more strict and less keen on Huey to begin with. She takes herself a lot more seriously and acts a lot older.

Track 10
She's my sister
Although this is sometimes referenced being a cheesy moment, I think it really tells audiences a lot about the characters of Delray and Huey and how different their lives are. I think this song definitely makes the antagonistic Delray much more likable. I adore the younger sound of Rolan Bell's voice, even though J Bernard Calloway's voice is more commanding.

Track 11
Killian Donnely's voice is also much younger sounding than it's OBCR counterpart. Noticeably, Donnelly's southern accent is not as pronounced here as it is when heard live.
I must say that I literally laughed out loud at the gratuitous 'Hockadoo'! I know it's his catchphrase so it makes sense to put it in the recording but... wow! Donnelly's Huey seems less out of control here than in the show. Chad's Huey sound's out of control from the get go!

Track 12
Say a prayer
So much happens between Radio and Say a Prayer that the contrast feels really jarring. This is brilliant, as the moment in the live show is a real sucker punch too.Tyrone Huntley gives a standout performance as Gator and sounds flawless in this song, so fresh and emotive. It's so emotional and the ensemble sounds amazing.

Track 13
Crazy Little Huey
I love the interaction between Huey and ensemble here. The song is again quite jarring coming just after Say a Prayer, but this makes it sound more in keeping with the show. Although I appreciate them elsewhere, the spoken parts seem unnecessary.

Track 14
Big Love
This is the first we really get to hear of Jason Pennycooke, playing the fan favourite character Bobby. His vocal performance is very different to James Munroe Iglehart, but both have wonderful emotive voices. I love the way the vocals build as the music does.

Track 15

Love will Stand
This super emotional song really complements Beverley Knight's lovely vocals. At this moment in the show, the cracks in Huey and Felicia's relationship are starting to show, so I love/hate Love Will Stand's irony. Female ensemble is so strong they sound angelic. I feel like this is a more raw version than the one on the OBCR.

Track 16
Stand up
This song makes me smile. Vocals blend better on the OLCR than on the OBCR (I've always thought that the line 'live the life that we deserve' sounds a bit odd anyway, but the cast makes it work). I like that this song showcases most of the main cast together. Of course Knight gives a brilliant performance in her solo.

Track 17
Change Don't Come Easy
In my personal opinion, this is the weakest song on the recording. Machin's vocals are definitely unique and the OBCR and OLCR versions do sound very different as a result, which is nice. I don't listen to this song much anyway and I don't think this is going to change that fact. (I do love Delray's 'prettify' though!)

Track 18
Tear Down The House
Honestly, I was distracted on the first listen by the prospect of Memphis Lives in Me coming next! On a second listen, I love how playful Donnelly's vocals are in this song! It gives you a really clear picture of his physical performance. There isn't really much to set this apart from the OBCR though.

Track 19
Memphis Lives in Me
From the moment he opens his mouth Donnelly nails this song. It's so heartbreaking you can't help but be moved to tears. The backing was perfect. The ensemble sound absolutely flawless. The iconic vocalisations in the middle section are stunning and the showstopping ending is absolutely breathtaking. Chad Kimball is the definitive Huey but Killian Donnelly really makes the song his own.

Track 20
Steal Your Rock and Roll
Again, the backing lacks the drama that the OBCR has. Vocals wise, it's lovely and the ensemble is really strong. (the 'na na na' bits are strange. There is a focus of 'NAA' rather that 'NAHH' which it strange. Not good or bad, just different.) Harmonies at the are are amazing.

Track 21
Memphis Lives in Me - David Bryan
This is exactly the same track found on the OBCR, so nothing new there.

And that's the last track!

I was hoping that Jon Robyns and Rachel John (The Huey and Felicia alternates) would get a solo on the cast album too (I mean, this isn't normally done, but I can dream right?) but sadly this is not the case. Such a shame, i'll just have to go and see them perform live!

Overall, I am blown away by the vocal performances given by every single member of the cast! I am so excited that this album was released early as I've been looking forward to it for months and months. In comparison, while both the OBCR and OLCR albums have their merits, I do still prefer the OBCR. For the foreseeable future though I will be listening to this album nonstop, and I would definitely recommend this!

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