Kate Rockwell: Back to My Roots – Album Review
I love albums where I get to hear the complete score of a musical, in its natural context, unfettered by cutesy banter and crippled by thin orchestrations. In other word, I am not usually a big fan of compilation albums that feature ballad-heavy set lists and performers putting their “clever” spin on them. It is typically why I don’t review these kind of albums, preferring not wager a possibly negative opinion on a genre that isn’t my cup of tea. This wasn’t always the case. A few decades ago, Bruce Kimmel produced a wide range of delightful compilations under the label Fynsworth Alley that were superb, often featuring a star (or stars) singing a particular composer or theme. The Stephen Schwartz Album, Just in Time: Judy Kuhn Sings Jule Styne, Laurie Beechman: No One Is Alone - Songs of Hope & Inspiration, and This Funny World: Mary Cleere Haran Sings Lyrics by Hart were some of my favorites. Truly, if you can track down any of these albums for your collection, you will thank me.
This brings me to the raison d’etre for this article. Recently, a friend recommended that I listen to Kate Rockwell: Back to My Roots, one of these compilation albums that I tend to be wary of. Oh, thank goodness, that he did. The delights that Rockwell has in store takes me back to the days of the Kimmel/Fynsworth Alley days, making my heart soar and my sour puss turn up into a radiant smile. What makes Rockwell, who currently appears in Broadway’s Mean Girls, and her new album such an accessible piece of perfection for me, is the that she doesn’t shy away from character songs. As I mentioned earlier, ballads (particularly of the romantic kind) are the go to choices for these albums, probably because the lift so easily from their context and play outside the confines of the show. There are some on this album, do not get me wrong. Character songs are another beast altogether, typically tethered to show, less effective outside of the parameters of the scene for which they are written. Kate Rockwell screams “Be damned with your parameters” and decides to include a healthy balance of character songs on this album. This is she succeeds so beautifully.
Among the great numbers she infuses with her characterizations is a wacky “I’m Breaking Down” from Falsettos, a sassy “I Know Things Now” from Into the Woods, and a fiery “Bring on the Men” from Jekyll & Hyde. Here, too, is a droll rendition of “What You Don’t Know About Women” from City of Angels, performed with a winning buy-in from Ariana DeBose (Tony nominee for Summer: The Donna Summer Musical). My heart particularly melted when, at the end of the track featuring “Unexpected Song” from Song & Dance (a song that is surprisingly under-recorded), we are treated to a bonus track of “Times Like This” from the Ahrens and Flaherty musical Lucky Stiff. Though there isn’t a stinker on the album, this bonus track is what hits it into the stratosphere for me. Every tender expression and nuance of the song is effortlessly conveyed by Rockwell, making me want to both rush out and adopt a dog and pray that she records a second album real soon.
Broadway Records is the label here and they have produced a fine album, giving Rockwell the pedestal upon which to share the best of her talents. If they can continue to create compilation albums of such caliber, I may just have to change my mind about them. Until then, I shall keep Kate Rockwell: Back to My Roots on instant replay and treasure it for the sublime unicorn that it is in my listening world.