Jessica Vosk: Wild and Free – Album Review
Mark my words, Jessica Vosk has transcended from Broadway star to Broadway superstar, launching herself across the precipice between the two with her debut album Wild and Free. The current Elphaba of Broadway’s Wicked has been tiptoeing up to the edge of greatness, teasing us with her promises, but with this new album (produced by Michael Croiter and Robbie Rozelle and released by Broadway Records), Ms. Vosk makes good with a refreshing plunge into artistry that surpasses our greatest expectations.
To begin with, Wild and Free is not just a musical theatre album. It is an eclectic mix of show music, pop, and folk. If I find it disappointing that there aren’t more showtunes on the album, it is a minor quibble coming from someone who simply can’t get enough of listening to Vosk wrap her precise and probing voice around a good showtune. On this album, there are three with which she sparkles: “The Music That Makes Me Dance” from Funny Girl, “Nobody’s Side” from Chess and “Hold On” from The Secret Garden. These three numbers exemplify the very best of what Vosk has to offer.
“The Music That Makes Me Dance” is a subtle dance with emotion, Vosk highlighting the fragility in the song and juxtaposing it against its bursts of exuberance. It’s a masterclass on how to get the most out of a song’s emotional range. With “Hold On,” not only are we reminded of the exquisite beauty of Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman’s work on The Secret Garden score, but we are also left questioning why this particular song is not recorded more often. Vosk weaves her way in and out of the stiff-upper-lip nature of the song, coaxing out the growing hope it instills with her confident and, ultimately soaring, voice. Arguably, her greatest feat on the recording is the electricity she infuses into the crackling and combusting “Nodbody’s Side.” I never thought I would ever hear anyone hold a candle to Judy Kuhn’s performance of this number, but Vosk comes close and there is no greater praise I can offer than to say that.
The rest of the album is full of interesting and mostly successful choices. If a curious mashup of the Beatles “Help” with Stephen Sondheim’s “Being Alive” has a rushed tempo that feels at odds with the material’s lyrical and melodic gravity, her pairing of Billy Joel’s “The Entertainer” and Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is a robust offering of verve and determination. The duo of songs ride perfectly on Vosk’s voice, and she, in turn, propels them into the stratosphere. Other highlights of the album include a joyously carefree cover of Melanie Safka’s 1971 folk-pop standard “Brand New Key,” and a hauntingly understated “It All Fades Away” by Jason Robert Brown.
What makes a Broadway star into a Broadway superstar is a distinctive voice and larger-than-life personality. Jessica Vosk has both of these in spades: a precision instrument that can be cold as steel one second and warm and enveloping the next. Her personality comes through as equal parts humor and heart, but there is also an underlying intensity that descends like a knife in the darkness, surprising us with its sharp edge, cutting into us with its honesty and conviction. Jessica Vosk is here to stay and her album Wild and Free is the rocket ship upon which you can begin an incredible journey with a performer as her star settles itself in the firmament where it so richly deserves to shine for years to come.