Reprise [2003]

by: Russell Watson

Let's get a few things out of the way. If you liked the first two Russell Watson albums, The Voice and Encore, you'll like Reprise just fine. And if you didn't like those recordings, you won't find much here to change your mind -- although even some of Watson's operatic detractors have noted a gradual strengthening in The Voice. But what if you're not particularly a fan, but you believe that vocal music needs a working-class hero right now more than it needs another example of "correct" voice production? First, and oddly enough, you'll find it's in modern pop songs that this former welder and spawn of the pub open mike sounds weakest. His version of Mike + the Mechanics' "The Living Years" falls short of many other covers, with vaguely neo-soul vocals that tap little of his range. (Note to fans: several pop pieces from the U.K. release of Reprise are omitted on this, the U.S. release.) Second, though Watson may not be a Pavarotti, his renditions of operatic pieces (here, selections from Tosca, Pagliacci, and Bizet's The Pearl Fishers) are no worse than countless others. He never sounds tired or artificial, and he continues to stretch himself vocally. Reprise includes an arrangement of Rossini's little song La danza that makes up in rhythmic enthusiasm what it lacks in flair. And finally, the unbiased will find in Reprise several examples of a genre that shows Watson at his best: the Neapolitan song, with its moderate vocal ranges and heartfelt texts. In that vast unused field between operatic music and pop, Watson shines in the likes of "Santa Lucia" and "Torna a Surriento." Though it's true, as Larry Gatlin wrote, that "living in the spotlight/can kill a man outright," Watson may well have what it takes to survive temporary stardom.

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