Who needs three tenors when Vermonters have one that gets better with every performance and recording?
Songs for the Heart is a CD just released by St. Johnsbury’s John Thade. These musical classics – those resounding standards from Broadway and Hollywood that defined the mid-20th century – will indeed make your heart sing whether they buzz in your head from days gone by, or you are just discovering their magic.
The treat for those who have stood and cheered at more than 150 of Thade’s concerts throughout Northern New England since 1995, is that the tenor appears to have reinvented himself over the past few years, and certainly in this collection. The “old” John Thade was Wunderbar. The “new” John Thade is, well, The Impossible Dream.
If you think a tenor is a tenor is a tenor, think again. Each of the 16 selections seems as fresh as the first time you heard them, perhaps fresher. His vocal control is, at times, astonishing. He is able to move from one style, tempo and range to another, without ever losing the sensitivity or clarity of the lyrics you know so well that you cannot be fooled.
This is an intimate recording, somehow creating the same warm feeling his concerts generate. It seems Thade is performing only for you. He is accompanied by Mark Cogley, whose touch is exactly right, fitting every nuance Thade can hand him, and there’s more of those than most accompanists could begin to handle. The arrangements by Gregory Dlugos and Dennis Buck bring voice and music together in such a way they make you think an orchestra would be superfluous. Meredith Capraro’s seamless engineering and editing is evident.
Concert-goers who frequent Thade’s fall tours of the Vermont countryside have long appreciated his “dinner conversation” approach to offering little known insights into the shows from which the songs have sprung, whether they were hits and misses, and information we may not have known or have forgotten about the lyricists and composers. The CD contains liner notes by Lawrence Thelen of Connecticut?s historic Goodspeed Opera House follow that interesting tradition.
Still another feature of Thade’s concerts is his ability to find songs that have long been mothballed and bring them to the front of the house. I remember a half century ago my father bringing me the sheet music from The Third Man Theme to try to play on my clarinet. I don’t believe I’ve heard it performed in those intervening years, though its melody has so often rolled in and out of my consciousness. I didn’t even know it had lyrics, but Thade, including it in a movie medley, sang them and then seemed to almost “teach the melody” as if he were my voice coach.
The prime example of Thade’s transition in voice and inspiration is evident in his medley of Tonight and Maria from Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s West Side Story. Look for the familiar ballad What Kind of Fool Am I? from Stop The World, I Want To Get Off. From the unforgettable Carousel by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, arguably the most beautiful Broadway musical score ever written, comes If I Loved You. There’s a medley from Oklahoma! including the title song and Oh, What A Beautiful Morning that defies any resistance to singing along.
The single most commanding track on the CD presents Thade at the pinnacle of his voice sensitivity and focus. Send In The Clowns from A Little Night Music is the place to “stick the needle” on the disc (as if we could still do that) and play it again and again. It, alone, is reason enough to bring this recording into your collection.
The build-up to the finale is as familiar as his concerts. One right after another comes stirring performances of The Music of the Night from Phantom of the Opera; the powerful rush of The Impossible Dream from Man of La Mancha; and the magnificent Bring Him Home from Les Miserables. The CD’s finale is already a Thade anthem: You’ll Never Walk Alone.
A quibble? Just one: I’d like to hear the “new” guy sing his “old” standby, Some Enchanted Evening. Come to think of it, even without it, this is an enchanted CD.
John Thade’s Songs from the Heart may be ordered on line by clicking http://www.johnthade.com; e-mailing John@JohnThade.com, or calling 1-800-559-7070.
CRAIG ALTSCHUL writes the Daily News at Vermont.com, celebrating the lighter side of the news in the Green Mountain State. He played at the clarinet, saxophone, and flute as a kid, and has never lost his love for America’s classic musicals. The shower, thankfully, is his only witness.