CD Review: RENAISSANCE (Cheyenne Jackson)

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by Tony Frankel on June 3, 2016



Handsome, self-effacing, loquacious, and convivially humble, singer / songwriter / actor Cheyenne Jackson radiates charisma–especially when on stage, where every time I have seen him he is dazzling. The consummate performer and committed social activist has his career dance card filled, bopping between Broadway (Xanadu, Finian’s Rainbow), TV (American Horror Story), and concerts (Music of the Mad Men Era). The latter tour, which called for elegance and ravishing 1950s and ’60s vocals, suited Jackson so well that he took to the recording studio, creating selections that cover a multitude of genres from that era (bossa-nova, bolero, big band). But this album is intended to show off more than Jackson’s throwback charm; it’s to cement this multi-talented hunk as a musical Renaissance man. As such, he added more modern categories, such as folk-house soul and rockabilly.

The result is Renaissance, which offers a dozen songs–eleven classic and one original–in a variety of genres, styles and arrangements (there are six arrangers) that always showcase Jackson’s ridiculously smooth voice. Right out of the gate, we are hooked by the swanky “Feelin’ Good”, the mambo madness infused “Americano”, and a slow tangoed “Bésame Mucho”–all backed by a sturdy big-band 22-piece orchestra led by Kevin Stites. Also successful: a lush “Angel Eyes” and a swinging “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home”–both with Nelson Riddle-esque arrangements by Jonathan Bartz that include awesome harmonic backup a la the Pied Pipers (vocals by Paul Castree, Jason Pintar, and Michael Winther). For a man who doesn’t have a distinctive voice in the vein of Cole, Crosby, Sinatra, etc., Jackson has a genuine geniality. But he is, after all, a product of his times, so expect those unnecessary American Idol-like inflections, which even when affected are hardly offensive. And even if slightly vanilla for the soulful “A Change Is Gonna Come”, Jackson really gets to show off his pipes.

After a huge dose of swing (and a traditional cover of the Frank & Nancy Sinatra duet “Somethin’ Stupid” with Jane Krakowski), a few of the selections feel incongruous to that Mad Men sound and don’t all belong on the same album. That Jackson can sing beautifully is never in question. However lightweight he can be at times, he entrances with the amiable piano-based covers of “A Case of You” (Joni Mitchell), “Your Song” (Elton John/Bernie Taupin), and a bittersweet original composition that Jackson wrote with Michael Feinstein, “Red Wine Is Good for My Heart.” The man is extremely comfortable in his body, and he would seem to have it all: looks, personality, talent, a flexible voice–an unstoppable recipe for stardom.

The only thing missing during much of Jackson’s 43-minute album is something deeper from the slick and occasionally schmaltzy showman. At this point, he is more of a song stylist (with a yet-to-be-defined style/brand) than an interpreter. In the ballads, his emotional connection to the lyrics can sound cursory and ungrounded, versus telling a story. The album grows on me after repeated listenings, but I find myself looking forward to the day when this this handsome, charismatic powerhouse performer sings to me, as opposed to performing for me.

Cheyenne Jackson
PS Classics | 12 tracks | 42:57
released June 3, 2016
to order, visit PS Classics
for more info, visit Cheyenne Jackson

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