Monday, April 7, 2014

Album review: George Michael

Over the last couple decades or so, George Michael has scored hits with live tracks (most notably the No. 1 duet with Elton John on "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" in 1991). Yet the veteran British pop music singer had never released a full-length concert album. 

Until now.

Symphonica, which came out recently, was culled from various 2011-12 stops of his European and UK tour of the same name. The shows were performed with an orchestra, which added a fresh sweeping sound to several Michael favorites and old standards. 

Produced by the late Phil Ramone (Billy Joel, Rod Stewart, Paul Simon), the stellar Symphonica debuted at No. 1 in England. Among the 14 selections are a half dozen Michael compositions, including a luxurious "Praying For Time," sleek, strings-enhanced "A Different Corner" (where Michael has no trouble hitting the high notes he first sang as a young member of Wham! all those years ago) and the tempered, gospel-flavored highlight "One More Try." 

The artist gives Ewan MacColl's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," Sir Elton's deep LP cut "Idol" (from Blue Moves) and Terence Trent D'Arby's "Let Her Down Easy" (the first single) fine delicate readings. Symphonica isn't comprised entirely of ballads though. 

There's a jazzy flair to the Bing Crosby-popularized "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" (initially tackled by Michael on 1999's Songs From the Last Century) and a pair of tunes that were Nina Simone calling cards: "My Baby Just Cares For Me" and showstopper "Feeling Good." The latter gives the brass section a chance to shine.

Michael in fine voice throughout here. Symphonica is recommended for diehard fans, those who enjoyed Stewart's Great American Songbook volumes or anyone who wants to soundtrack a romantic dinner at home. 

Grade: B+

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