Annaleene Beechey's solo album Close Your Eyes is a pleasing collection of ballads and reflective numbers, selected by the actress to include songs that have given her both employment and inspiration over the years. A soprano whose “peppermint cream” sound is closer to the demands of the musical theatre stage than the opera house, her career has taken in some of the leading roles in the canon with a smattering of Disney’s Belle for good measure. There is an ethereal quality to Beechey's sound and whilst talented sopranos abound, few have the woman/child crystal clarity that this gorgeously lilted Irish songstress presents.
Opening with No One Is Alone / Children Will Listen accompanied by a simple cello and piano, her take on the song explores Sondheim's subtleties with delicacy. Beechey chooses to lay down several vocal tracks of the song, harmonising with herself. Whilst her duet (at times trio) for one is melodically faultless, the electronic trickery that has made it happen detracts from the honest naked beauty of her voice and is also at odds with her album note “I always wanted the recording to feel like a live ‘unplugged’ performance, warts and all”. Not for next time, please.
Later in the album, Beechey gives us Perfect Day, not the Lou Reed classic, but rather the Colin Towns composition, made famous by Miriam Stockley as the theme from Peter Rabbit. Eschewing all instruments, the accompaniment on this number is entirely a capella. Its a talented sound unquestionably, though the background chanting does at times suggest Christopher Lee's followers in the 1970's cult movie The Wicker Man, rather than the raw earthy English sound that is clearly aspired to.
But credit to Beechey, the strengths of her collection are magnificent. Doll On A Music Box, already a cracking Sherman brothers classic from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is given an occasional and surprising minor-key treatment and with mournful cello work used just enough, the song is stripped of its cute saccharine charm and becomes a heartfelt cri de coeur of a trapped and lonely soul. Rarely has such a well known song been given such a remarkable and above all, valid re-interpretation.
Sailing too (and again, not the iconic Rod Stewart number but rather the gorgeous work from Lapine and Finn’s A New Brain) is another example of a musical theatre cognoscenti’s favourite, given a charmingly upbeat and refreshingly feminine touch under Beechey's treatment. Its another gem amongst the collection.
Beechey closes the album with the Scott Alan’s Goodnight, taken from his forthcoming musical "Home" and sung by a daughter who has returned home to nurse her elderly dying mother. Alan's words and music are nothing if not sublimely perceptive and Beechey again deploys an almost cherubic effect of a wise adult who is nonetheless still a heartbroken child, tending to her mother's passing.
Some four years since its release, the album remains a sound tribute to the achievements of one of the stage’s accomplished leading ladies. Beechey is a cracking performer and I’d love to hear her second collection!
Available from www.SimGProductions.com and iTunes