A disclaimer - you'll probably have more fun with this recording if you think of it as "Songs from Hair". This is NOT a recording of a traditional version of the show; it's more a cabaret, with each song being sung by a different artist. While this completely removes continuity and character development, it does free up the listener to appreciate Galt MacDermot's music, sung as it should be. Let's face it - the original RCA recording of the Broadway cast of 1964 is priceless as an artifact of its time, but it's not exactly a pleasant listen - the cast is of the "more enthusiasm than talent" school.
Here, though, there's no such problem.
There's a whole lotta belting goin' on in this album. Because each singer only has one song, and there's no need to conserve their voices for later in the show, everybody gives it their all - and in the case of such powerful singers as Gavin Creel, Lillias White, Shoshana Bean, Raul Esparza, Adam Pascal, Eden Espinosa, Orfeh, Jennifer Hudson, and Billy Porter? That's quite a lot. And the backup voices, if anything, are even more spectacular: listen to that anonymous chorus girl hit an air-raid-siren high note at the end of "Goin' Down".
1. "Aquarius" - The famous chorale opening, led by the inimitable Lillias White. The orchestrations and backup singing sends shivers down the spine, and White brings the gospel something fierce. 5/5
2. "Donna" - In the first of many gender-bendings on the album, "Donna" is here sung by Lea DeLaria, who does a passable job, if she tends to overemote. 3/5
3. "Hashish" - All-chorus listing of various hallucinogens and illegal mind enhancers. Fun as always, but a trifle. 2/5
4. "Sodomy" - That timeless ode to deviant sexual practice, here sung in a pure, innocent choir-boy tenor by Jai Rodriguez of Zanna, Don't! and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy fame. 5/5
5. "Colored Spade" - For everyone who's ever wanted to hear Tony-winning bass-baritone Chuck Cooper declare himself "President of the United States of Love". 4/5
6. "Manchester, England" - A four-decade-old antecedent of Britpop, charmingly given life by Euan Morton. 4/5
7. "Dead End" - The first really high-energy number since "Aquarius" kicks things back into high gear. Ana Gasteyer shows off the pipes that would later land her the role of Elphaba on Broadway in "Wicked". There's a big black woman hiding inside that white comedienne! 4/5
8. "Sheila Franklin/I Believe in Love" - Shoshana Bean, if you've ever heard her, is infamous for singing every song as one giant melisma. She does it here too, of course, but particularly impressively. She rockets through all of her 72 octaves in the course of a minute and nineteen seconds. 5/5
9. "I'm Black/Ain't Got No" - A kind of pointless song, the whole chorus yelling about what they lack in life. Fun ending, though. 2/5
Ahh, now we're getting into the really good stuff. The meat of the disc is from the middle to the end, and it's a three-course meal from here on out.
10. "Air" - Harvey Fierstein, he of the goose-strangled-with-barbed-wire voice, rasps out this little ditty in an inspired bit of gimmick casting, and manages to not cough up any internal organs, despite the ungodly noises toward the end of the track. 5/5
11. "Initials" - What was originally a choral number is now handed primarily to the divine Laura Benanti. And what do you know, she's funny! Topping the whole thing off with an operatic high C doesn't hurt matters, either. 5/5
12. "I Got Life" - Broadway's resident rock star, Adam Pascal, shows off the voice that he should have blown out looong ago in a rollicking, fast-paced number. Great fun, but I wouldn't recommend trying to emulate it. 5/5
13. "Goin' Down" - Gavin Creel has a voice of honey and silk that can rise into an impressively soulful belt when he feels like it. And here, he feels like it. Another energetic roof-raiser. 5/5
14. "Hair" - These three songs, these three singers, one right after the other? It's bliss. Raul Esparza snarls out the first verse, then roars full-throttle into a higher octave for the last few stanzas. A fitting title song. 5/5
15. "My Conviction" - Another fun trifle, amusingly given voice by a veddy proper Charles Busch. 3/5
16. "Easy To Be Hard" - Jennifer Hudson, post-American Idol and pre-Dreamgirls, is revelatory here. She tears the lid off this already-impassioned number and absolutely rips it to shreds. Just the right amount of emoting, just the right amount of full-throated vocalizing. The definitive rendition of this song, EVER. (I was unconvinced she was right for Effie, until I heard this. It gave me chills like I hadn't felt since Jennifer Holliday's performance in... well, you know.) 6/5
17. "Don't Put it Down!" - Funny indictment of patriotism, given an unfortunately nasal rendition by the duo of Christopher Sieber and John Tartaglia. It passes quickly. 2/5
18. "Frank Mills" - The sweetly-warbling Annie Golden is adorable in this lament for a lost love. 4/5
19. "Be-In Hare Krishna" - Catchy as all hell. This has been in my head for approximately... ten years. 5/5
20. "Where Do I Go?" - Another gender switch. Here, Julia Murney sings a song of uncertainty. Fans of the Wild Party will be unsurprised to learn that it does end in a big, belty final phrase. However, she has grown into her voice, and shows a bit of welcome nuance in the plaintive lyrics. 5/5
21. "Hippie Life" - Eden Espinosa does her thing with some dated lyrics and some insanity-belting. 4/5
22. "Electric Blues" - The most aurally interesting track on the album, and also the one that takes the most liberty with its source material - there's no instrumentation and no lead vocalist. The a cappella group Toxic Audio is menacing, and yet somehow amusing, showing that even though they lack the Broadway star status of most of the other participants, they more than deserve it. 5/5
23. "Black Boys" - Part one of a two-part ode to jungle fever. Odd tempo and some strange, strange metaphors comparing black men repeatedly to candy. 3/5
24. "White Boys" - Part two, and by far the more satisfying. True, the whole thing is basically a long contest to see which girl can belt the highest and riff the most, but by God it's fun as hell to listen to Shayna Steele, Brandi Chavonne Massey, and Orfeh skip up half step after half step, till you're not sure they can continue to do that without hurting somebody. 5/5
25. "Walking in Space" - Another paean to the positive aspects of drug use, sung gorgeously by Sherie Rene Scott. 5/5
26. "Yes, I's Finished on Y'all's Farmlands" - Short and good. 4/5
27. "Four Score/Abie, Baby" - Gives the legendary Billy Porter the Emancipation Proclamation and lets him run with it, with fantastic results. 5/5
28. "Good Morning Starshine" - Sweetly given voice by Liz Callaway. Shows off MacDermot's uncommon melodic gift, and the inanity of Gerome Ragni's lyrics. 5/5
29. "Three-Five-Zero-Zero" - Absolutely terrifying choral requiem for Vietnam. 5/5
30. "What a Piece Of Work is Man" - Darius DeHaas again shows why he deserves a lot more work than he gets, and also why he's known to possess a killer tenor voice. 4/5
31. "The Flesh Failures/Let the Sunshine In" - Possibly the best track on the album is saved for last. The incomparable Norm Lewis starts things off with uncertainty in his deep, resonant tenor, built around a repeating bassline. As the orchestration builds and he climbs up the staff, Euan Morton makes a return appearance as Claude, screaming in anguish. The chorus joins in gradually, Billy Porter and Darius DeHaas start exhorting the audience to let the sunshine in, and joy breaks through the clouds, though that minor key constantly reminds us that there are no clean-cut happy endings.