Anika Larsen, nominated for a Tony in 2014 for her performance as songwriter Cynthia Weil in the Broadway production of Beautiful—The Carole King Musical, released her debut solo album Sing You to Sleep this past December. The perhaps unfortunately titled disc—after all, singing that puts one to sleep isn’t necessarily something to crow about—is a collection of what she calls in her liner note “a repertoire of lullabies and other songs I loved singing to the children I cared for” while babysitting and “nannying.” If played in order, she notes, they get slower as they progress—the aim being to get the little ones to drift off as the bedtime concert reaches its conclusion.
Hopefully adults will find Larsen’s sweet soprano less soporific. Indeed, anyone falling asleep before the final track ends will be missing some very fine music. The singer has chosen an eclectic program of songs that move from a classic like the Gershwins’ “Summertime” which opens the album, to more modern classics like John Denver’s “Annie’s Song.” She brings a creative vitality to the material, a creative vitality that speaks to her joy in the music. It is a joy that is infectious.
Her reading of Sting’s beautiful “Fields of Gold” is simple, intense and elegant in an arrangement that features the horn of (her partner) Freddie Maxwell. For me it is the highlight of the album. Bruno Mars’ “Count on Me” gets a more upbeat treatment, and Richard Loris Jones’ (father of Rickie Lee) “The Moon Is Made of Gold” has a jazzy vibe concluding with a bit of scat from Larsen. “Four-Leaf Clover” on the other hand, has a folksy feel.
She is joined by Beautiful Tony winner Jessie Mueller in a duet on James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes,” and concludes the album with a dramatic take on Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.” It would be a real shame if anyone was sung to sleep before getting to it.
Larsen is accompanied on the album by a stellar ensemble. Joining Maxwell (trumpet/flugelhorn) are David Cook on piano and organ, Pete McCann on guitar, Jared Schonig on drums, Alan Hampton on bass, and Sara Caswell on fiddle. Kenita Miller does backup vocals.
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