Thursday, September 23, 2010; Posted: 12:09 PM - by Pat Cerasaro
Today we are taking a listen to one of the most hotly anticipated albums of the year from one of the biggest stars in entertainment history - Hollywood, Broadway and beyond - the incomparably divine Liza Minnelli and her new studio album CONFESSIONS. Having appeared in countless films, concerts, television specials and seemingly every other form of media over the years - not to mention her many appearances on Broadway, among them a 2009 Tony Winner for LIZA'S AT THE PALACE - this lady of the stage and screen needs no introduction. But, if pressed: CABARET, CHICAGO, NEW YORK NEW YORK, ALFIE, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT - and so many more. Surely, we thought she had done it all - and with very good reason - but then comes this moment, this album, this Liza. It's everything you would not expect - plus a few glorious things you would - which makes it the ultimate meta-Minnelli album. Music fans surely won't want to miss this truly Holy CONFESSIONS. Liza-lujah!
The Church of Liza
Like showbiz sacraments, so many moments on Liza Minnelli's road to stardom have heralded her truly transcendental gifts as an actress, a singer and a dancer - and as a performer par excellence. A life like hers deserves deep divining, particularly the depths of her definite divinity. As a world, we witnessed the wedding of Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli and the birth of their only child together. As an audience, our First Communion was when we saw that daughter emerge as a star of the highest caliber in her own right, Baptized by Broadway in FLORA THE RED MENACE, directed by Harold Prince who would soon become the king of Broadway. The Confirmation rituals were the ceremonies where she won the Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and multiple Tony Awards. So, too, was she christened Hollywood royalty through the Holy Orders of Otto Preminger, Bob Fosse, Martin Scorsese and others. Her musical Marriage to Kander & Ebb has yielded some of the greatest specialty songs of all-time - and best barn-burners ever written. So, here we are, now, with what could have very well been Liza's Last Rites, yet it‘s a reawakening; a renaissance. And it's just right. CONFESSIONS is the album we have all been waiting for, fans of any and every feather, yellow, blue or grey. CONFESSIONS is consistently charming, cool, classy and carefully constructed. It is intimate, refined, atmospheric and - particularly "At Last" - heavenly.
A deceptively involving, delicate and incandescent album, CONFESSIONS is fodder with which to prove the naysayer wrong with the star of the show doing exactly what we would least and last expect her to do. After all, she always keeps us guessing, that's why she's lasted so long. She has done it all and she has attained it all, so now she is going to take no prisoners and strip it all away. She's going to bare-bones-blues it. Just a piano, maybe an occasional ensemble number, but letting the songs speak and sing and shine for themselves - and letting the supreme storyteller at the center weave her web, spider-like, over the audience with every song she tells and story she sings. In keeping with the naked nature of the album, all revealed: my particular bias lies with the first and last tracks, which I find to be sheer delectable perfection and - like the album itself - for all the most unexpected and surprising reasons. Understated, slightly mysterious and overflowing with emotion - much of it repressed, on the surface - this is not the album one would expect Liza Minnelli to make in 2010, particularly coming after her gaudy and glitzy appearance singing Beyonce's "Single Ladies" in SEX & THE CITY 2. But much like her heritage - familial and religious - she can do a return (never a "comeback") like no one else and become that bright-burning beacon of millions of Broadway marquee bulbs bursting simultaneously. Such is the power of Liza Minnelli, and she doesn't even need to be plugged in (this album is almost entirely unplugged) to wow you with her wattage. You can consider CONFESSIONS psalm-like proof of the fact of Minnelli‘s ever-maturing mastery of music, performance and storytelling through song has never been better - call it the Shroud of Turin. Or, as Sally Bowles (or Irving) would say: the Shroud of Berlin.
A sweet and sexy specialty song for a 1950s Judy Holliday album begets the title track "Confession" which begins the album with a bawdy and brusque bang. What a risqué and rowdy way to start the show! And so it goes... this is a very romantic and intimate album in all senses of both of those words. Furthermore, the sensual nature of Minnelli's delivery abets the enterprise even more alluring and enticing - reaching its apotheosis in the life-affirming glow and unadorned glory of Liza's take on Etta James's classic blues ballad "At Last" which closes out the album. It's ecstasy - religious, sexual, theatrical or otherwise. What comes in between the first and last tracks is consistently concentrated, carefully crafted musical magic. Each selection creates a specific mood, sound, style, feeling and je ne sais quoi. "You Fascinate Me So" evokes a nightclub scene in a 40s noir. "All The Way" goes a long way in showing that that song can be taKen Down a notch or nine from Sinatra and still have resonance as, alternately, an anthem, a war-cry and a proclamation of resilience. In performance, Liza usually takes it all the way - and sometimes much further - but it is the distinct pleasure of CONFESSIONS that she is doing everything but that and showing so many new and exciting sides of her personality, talent, instrument and performance style. CONFESSIONS is the preservation and distillation of all those fine and refined features in one place. "I Hadn't Anyone Til You" is rueful and revealing. "This Heart Of Mine" is succulent, rollicking and just right with just enough punch and pizzazz to appease the Liza lovers who only like their leading lady in one flavor: bold. "I Got Lost In His Arms" also fulfills the fantasy of many fans, and while we never got to see an Annie Oakley ala Minnelli (either mother or daughter) this is just as good. Maybe even better. It's so mature, so elegant, so studied. "Remind Me" reminds us why Liza is the greatest singing storyteller alive, bar none. No one lives her lyrics like Liza lives her lyrics. No one. We experience the story of each song with her as if we are discovering something together. We are always a part of it. With Liza, every performance is as much about the audience as it is about the songs or even the performer or performance itself. So, too, is CONFESSIONS a communal experience - like church. The Church of Liza.
Blessed indeed is "Close Your Eyes", which is probably the best sample track of the album, and if one were to introduce a friend to the world of Ms. Minnelli as she is now, today - not Sally Bowles or Roxie Hart or any of the many faces of Minnelli we have come to know over the years - this would be the very best example to utilize. After you hear it you may be compelled to ask yourself, whether fan or neophyte, "Who could do this better than she just did it?" To which the reply undoubtedly was, is and forever shall be: "No one." Following suit comes "He's A Tramp". A little bit like "Roxie" from CHICAGO - an intentional homage on the parts of les messieurs Kander et Ebb in CHICAGO - Liza may have done these numbers to utter perfection with unmatched energy and electricity in her heyday, but she can find world-weary pathos and add a life-learned lilt and verve to her phrasing now which makes songs of this order even richer as a result. "I Must Have That Man" is much more the sort of song that Liza fans have come to expect from her, and the next track has almost assuredly made its appearance on this album for far more than the lyric referencing her mama - "On Such A Night As This" - but, audience-appeasement aside, both paint a more complete picture of the lady with the torch at the center of the story, the total portrait that is created when the album is viewed as a complete, collective work of art - because, after all, art it is. Albums like this aren't easy. And, as Sondheim would say, neither is art. This is a new phase for Liza, both in the sound and timbre of her instrument and the songs which she can truly excel at performing now more than ever. A storyteller like Liza doesn't need the sparkles and sequins, as nice as they are. Actually, without them, her talent is even more astounding, as this album proves time and time again, moment by moment. "Moments Like This" is fun and funky, with some super-hot riffs and vivid vocalization (even a bit ala Mary J. Blige). "If I Had You" is perhaps a tad too slow at the get-go, but there is a damn good reason - you see, Liza has her own twist on every song she deigns sing, and the songs are almost always the better for it. In concert, you are always aware of her telling you the story but with the visual element eliminated all we have left is the most talented song-storyteller alive on an album like CONFESSIONS. The Aesop of arpeggios and Arlen, song-weaver Liza Minnelli.
If her greatest performance of all time in LIZA WITH A Z (as captured on video by Bob Fosse) is the main course, CONFESSIONS is the coffee, dessert and aperitif that come afterwards. Unquestionably, by the time we reach "At Last" it is clear from the shivers on our spine, the goose-bumps on our arms and the tears on our cheeks - and smiles, so many, many smiles, too - that, at last, we have arrived. We're here, we're home and aren't we lucky? What a trip we've had, what a ride - and what a tour-guide! Simply put, if "At Last" doesn't make you smile, you don't know how. If this album doesn't lift your spirits, you must be a heartless ghost. You can practically - hell, verifiably - hear her smiling. Who else can act that?! CONFESSIONS is so much of what we have loved about Liza in the past, so much of what we enjoy about her now and the enviable embodiment of what we anticipate the future will hold for her immense talent. She could record thirty more albums - this is her twenty-ninth studio album, by the way - in exactly this style and using these composers' song-stacks and the world of recorded music would be a much better place for it. As her husband Peter Allen once wrote, "Everything old is new again," and so is the case with CONFESSIONS - except that condition is compounded by the fact we have the very best getting even better while proving the adage true. This album is comfortably reminiscent of a time gone by in the sound and styling, yet fresh as a single long-stemmed rose in the delivery of the material by Ms. Minnelli. It's like your oldest, best friend showing up on your doorstep in vintage couture and with a perfect (but barely noticeable) face-lift. This album reveals all, spares none and wallows in it. It's brutally honest, unflinchingly real and raw humanity. It's a divine confession. Make it - and be absolutely absolved of your sins. You May Go in peace - and, after all she's been through, peace be with Liza. At last.
Read more: http://www.broadwayworld.com/article/SOUND_OFF_Holy_CONFESSIONS_20100923_page2#ixzz10PXcNax9