`Illusions' and `City of Strangers', albums primarily of vocals by Ute Lemper, were released in 1992 and 1995 respectively, interspersed with her releasing the last of her major albums of Kurt Weill material in 1993. `Illusions' and `City of Strangers' are both a mix of songs in German, French, and English. Of the two, `Illusions' is the more coherent, but that difference is small. Very much like The Doors first two albums, these two are both cut from a single cloth and with some material are precursors of Ms. Lemper's really excellent `Berlin Cararet Songs' done in both full English and German versions in 1997. For example, several songs on these two albums were written by Friedrich Hollaender who is featured on the `Berlin...' albums.
For those readers who are not familiar with Ute Lemper's repertoire, these two albums, along with the first `Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill' may be the best introduction to her style of performance. I have yet to hear one of her albums which I did not like; however, I suggest you stay away from her `Best of' album and her `Life is a Cabaret' album. The latter is a takeoff on Lisa Minelli's style and material and while I can listen to it with pleasure, it does not represent Ms. Lemper's best interpretations. If your taste in female vocalists includes Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich, and Barbra Streisand, especially for her dramatic and unusual interpretations of some songs, I suspect you will really like these recordings. If you are more fond of jazz vocalists along the lines of Blossom Deary and Billy Holliday, or like traditional Broadway performances as done by Betty Buckley, these may be just a bit too heavily laden with European `Weltshmertz'. Also, if you have no strong tastes in popular female vocalists, I strongly suggest you give these recordings a try. I also suggest that Ms. Lemper even does a better job with these tunes than you may find from a classically trained singer such as Anne Sophie von Otter, who is just a bit too sweet for this peppery material.
For readers who are were attracted to Ms. Lemper by the album, `Punishing Kiss', I strongly recommend these albums even over her Weill material.
Overall, if there is a better vocalist doing European ballads and musical stage numbers, I am not familiar with them. As a long time fan of Barbra Streisand who has found her material a bit flat lately, I am immensely happy to have Ms. Lemper to listen to, and always look forward to her latest material. I just with she would perform more on our shores.
Very highly recommended.