Amongst my friends my love of Kerry Ellis is regarded as an obsession; I like to think I'm just a loyal fan! I saw Kerry in the musical Wicked back in 2007 and have since followed her career, eagerly awaiting the release of her album, Anthems. Kerry had previously collaborated with Queen's Brian May on a three track demo and the full album followed in September 2010. Kerry Ellis is not well known to the general public although she is regarded as having one of the best voices in theatre today, and one of the few West End leading ladies who didn't achieve success through a television talent programme.
Kerry Ellis first came to attention in theatreland as Martine McCutcheon's understudy in My Fair Lady when Brian May saw her perform. He invited her to audition for We Will Rock You in 2002 where she was immediately cast in the role of Meat, a role she created. Kerry then spent three years starring as Elphaba in Wicked both in the West End and on Broadway and then took over Jody Prenger in the role of Nancy in Oliver in which she performed the final show before it closed in January. She has also played Fantine is Les Miserables, a role I would do anything but kill to see her in today and Kerry is currently on a UK wide tour which ended with Hampton Court Festival last weekend.
The CD itself (featuring a beautiful picture of Kerry) was released in September 2010 and I had it on pre-order so when Alex told me it had arrived at home that day, I came back from work early to listen to it! Since then it has been on almost constantly at home, and also on my iPod!
"There is a land I know. Far from our gravity. Where healing waters flow and love is always free."
Dangerland is one of the few songs which was written especially for the album. It is very different to the rest of the tracks and one of the few non-ballads on the CD. It has a rocking beat and Kerry's voice is strong over Brian's guitar where lesser voices could be overpowered. This is one of the songs that would appeal to the Brian May fans as his distinctive sound is dominant where the other tracks are mainly about Kerry's voice. It's one of the longer tracks on the album and I feel it's quite repetitive and really took me a while to get into. I love it now and even though I'm happy to listen to it when the CD is on, it's not one that I would choose on my iPod! 6\10
"and you ask me why I love her, through wars, death and despair. She is the constant. We who don't care."
If I'm not listening to Anthem, I'm singing it at the top of my voice or whistling it at work. It is a cover of the song from the musical Chess and one of the most passionate, beautiful songs on the album. Kerry performed in a concert of Chess a few years ago along with Josh Groban and Idina Menzel and while she didn't sing this song it represents another part of her story so far. Kerry's vocals are incredible as she sings this ballad and it sends me off into dreamland as I listen to it. Every line is delivered with perfection and while none of the lyrics mean much to me (it's very patriotic!), Kerry puts so much feeling into the words and the songs make me feel really emotional. The last thirty seconds of the song or so once Brian's guitar has really kicked in are just absolutely wonderful and it shows Kerry's powerful voice at its best. She really belts it out at the end and it regularly brings me to tears. It does start off slowly though and it took me a few times to get into this song, however it's now it's my most listened-to track on my iPod! 10\10
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwsY1dXi7Mo fast forward to 02.30 if you want to see something special.
"There should have been some tears, there should have been some pain. You didn't raise your voice, it didn't even rain."
I Can't Be Your Friend (This Can't Be Over) was the only song on the album that I had never heard of before it was released. It is the second of two songs that were written for the album, this one by Don Black, the Oscar and Grammy nominated writer of many famous songs from films and musicals. The song tells of a sad break up and how the couple can't stay friends after years of being lovers. One of many ballads on the album it shows of Kerry's voice at its vulnerable and beautiful best. 7\10
"Too long I've been afraid of losing love I guess I've lost. Well if that's love it comes at much to high a cost".
What can I say about Defying Gravity? I've listened to the song at least once a day for the four years I've known it and I still love it. The first of two songs on the album from the musical Wicked, in which Kerry starred in the West End for three years, it is probably the most well known due to its recent appearance on the TV show Glee. With music and lyrics by Steven Schwarz and a wonderful rock arrangement by Brian May who, of course, features on guitar, the song is about breaking free and doing your own thing. Kerry's powerful voice and signature growls are perfect on the track and with the rock arrangement she is able to rock out even more than she could on stage. This version of the song is not a patch on the one from the musical and for me, nothing could ever beat Kerry singing it live, but this is still a real treat. To me this song is uplifting and can snap me out of a bad mood immediately, just be dancing round the house screaming it at the top of my lungs. 10\10
"Don't wish, don't start, wishing only wounds the heart. There's a girl I know. He loves her so. I'm not that girl"
I'm Not That Girl, although a track that I love, was the biggest let down on the album for me. It is the second song on the CD from the musical Wicked and was always one of my favourite songs in the show. However, this new rendition from Kerry decides to take the beautiful sad lyrics and put them to a beat. Sometimes this works, but for me, this really doesn't. Luckily we are still treated to a beautiful first verse and a nice part at the end which show how beautiful Kerry's voice is, but I rarely get to the end as I skip straight to the next song as soon as the beat kicks in. I'm removing another point for the shocking last line where they decide to throw in an extra line of "maybe someday I'll be at girl" which completely ruins the whole song as it isn't supposed to be optimistic. 6\10 (the original is a solid 10\10!)
"Little by little I'm losing my way in the shadows. I am losing my home and the world falls apart"
You Have To Be There was written by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus for the musical Kristina which never made it to the UK, but when Kerry sang it at an Abba concert a few years back her fans went mad for it. It is a religious song about belief in God and although I know nothing of Kerry's religious values, she sings it with such passion and puts her heart into it. It is much higher pitched than Kerry's usual comfortable zone but she sings it flawlessly and with ease. It isn't one of my favourites but it is a beautiful song and well worth 7\10.
"So what's the complication, it's only conversation and I love it when you call but you never call at all".
Kerry sang I Love It When You Call a couple of years back when she sang 'The Great British Songbook' at the Shaw Theatre. It was well received by the audience and when Kerry and Brian started putting together the album they decided it should go on. I wish it hadn't. For me it's one of the worst songs on the album despite the fact I adore just about anything Kerry does and that I loved the original by The Feeling. Kerry's voice isn't challenged on the song and it's just so ordinary. It pains me to say I dislike any of the songs but this is one that I fast-forward every time I listen to the CD. 4\10
"Each night I cry, I still believe a lie. I love you 'til I die".
Originally a song by Queen and written by Brian May, Kerry gives Save Me her own spin and for me this is one of the best songs on the album. It's a sweet and soft song about a relationship that has ended, very different to the more rocky numbers we're used to from Kerry but the power and emotion behind her voice give the song extra depth and make it believable. From the first line Kerry's voice is captivating and the catchy chorus makes it on my favourites. 9\10
"I don't need love, for what good will love do me? Diamonds never lie to me".
Diamonds are Forever has been covered by so many talented artists and I wouldn't have thought that Kerry would have picked it for her album. However, Diamonds is the absolute definition of an anthem and a great chance for Kerry to show off her big weapon, her powerful voice. As always he manages to do this in the most effortless way with all the usual growls and long notes. 7\10
"One by one, only the good die young. They're only flying to close to the sun, and life goes on... without you"
No-one But You (Only the Good Die Young) always makes me emotional. Recorded by Queen after the death of Freddie Mercury it failed to make a big impression, however was revamped for the musical We Will Rock You where Kerry's character Meat sang the song. This version of the track is soft and slow and really shows how beautiful her voice is. I think it's much better than the original but it's a shame they couldn't have glammed it up a bit for this album as it isn't very different to the We Will Rock You recording. I'm really glad that they included it on the album as it was one of the first songs on the CD that Kerry ever sang, early in her career. 7\10
"All things that glitter can't be gold"
I Loved A Butterfly track shows how beautiful Kerry's voice really is when the music is stripped back and all you have is her voice. The song may be known to hardcore fans of Brian May as 'Some Things That Glitter' from his 2008 album The Cosmos Rocks although I had never heard of it before Kerry recorded it. It's a love song and despite the fact that it's nice and easy listening, it's not one of my favourite songs on the album as I just don't think it stands out. It is one of the few songs on the album which could have been recorded by anyone and even Kerry's voice can't wow me on this one. 6\10
** My thoughts **
When Kerry announced she was going to release an album I was absolutely delighted. I had spent many an evening watching her on youtube and downloading whatever illegal tracks I could of her, including people's mobile phone recordings! When it finally came out in September 2010 it certainly didn't disappoint. The album captures different parts of Kerry's career including two songs from Wicked, one from We Will Rock You and other songs from various concerts she has performed and generally tracks that have gone down well with fans.
I am really impressed with the album and am so pleased that Kerry and Brian chose this collection of song. However, for me the CD is missing a few songs from throughout Kerry's career including 'Somebody To Love' which I've heard her sing a few times. Having written it, Brian should have insisted it went on! I would have also loved 'I Dreamed a Dream' from Les Miserables to feature on the album. Kerry's version is just amazing but the only place to hear her sing it is on Youtube as she has never recorded it. One day...
This review has been a long time in the making (I started it in January but just couldn't finish it!), mainly because I didn't feel I could do credit to one of my favourite albums - plus I find music really hard to write about. Anyway, if it makes one person buy the album or listen to some Kerry Ellis, I'll be a happy girl!
Disc #1 Tracklisting
3 I Can't Be Your Friend (This Can't Be Over)
4 Defying Gravity
5 I'm Not That Girl
6 You Have To Be There
7 Love It When You Call
8 Save Me
9 Diamonds Are Forever
10 No-One But You (Only The Good Die Young)
11 I Loved A Butterfly