Speckulation Entertainment has in recent years built an enviable reputation for attracting and promoting unusually innovative young talent. This disc represents a peak in that ideal. Not only does it feature some of their usual `repertory company' of accomplished West End talent, but the composer was discovered by them via a 2007 national Musical Theatre writing competition.
Michael Bruce's work has already been heard in concert form on the London stage, and will next (at the time of writing) appear accompanying David Tennant and Catherine Tate in "Much Ado About Nothing" at Wyndham's Theatre in Summer 2011 according to the sleeve notes. Before that, this CD takes an entertaining sweep through his varied song styles. "Don't Wanna Leave You Now" opens the recording with a surprisingly downbeat first verse leading to an unexpected haunting middle section. "Even Then," with a heartfelt vocal by Paul Spicer then continues the established yearning theme.
Track 3, "I Want A Man" had me reaching for the listings to check whose smooth sweet voice started the song. Sarah Lark kicks off a vaudeville style duet in fine style, amusing us as she and Sarah Earnshaw share a quest for the ideal partner. More yearning, but with a witty upbeat lyric.
The tempo slows again for Charlotte Wakefield's stage ballad style "Someplace Beyond the Moon." Who knows what went on in the show before she sings it - but she'll no doubt have the ushers selling out of Kleenex before she's done.
Mark Evans follows with a bluesy `click along' "Money Honey" - moving from theatre stage to smoky American bar setting in the listener's mind. Masculine enough for the ladies of track 3, perhaps? Well placed directly afterwards, Emily Tierney's `Continental' carries the smoky atmosphere a few thousand miles East of the previous track. Another obviously `stage' number, this would fit well into any evening seeking an alternative to the classic Kander and Ebb `Cabaret' numbers. Completing the mid-list travelling trio, `Away' is a forceful desire for emotional release, given power treatment by Alex Jessop.
Jessie Buckley then calms things with a perfectly controlled `It's Not Gonna Rain.' Obviously learning from her time in Sondheim's "A Little Night Music" in 2009, she picks her way beautifully through a fragile construct, revealing hidden depths in each line. Still in Sondheim mode, "The Musical Theatre Song" is Bruce's tribute to "Not Getting Married" from "Company." Anna-Jane Casey turns in her usual `character' comedy performance to get the most from a well thought out `list' number. Ashleigh Gray then changes the disc's gear yet again with "My Kind of World." Sondheim style to begin with, mixing with something contemporary to create a fresh yet timeless ballad.
Following this is "Portrait Of A Princess." No Speckulation Entertainment CD is complete without insanely talented (or talentedly insane?) Julie Atherton providing a lunatic treatment of a mad fun number.. Even better, this superb, intelligent parody has, for those with online access (and who don't mind the odd expletive), a glorious Technicolor Disney (but NOT for kids) video accompaniment elsewhere online. You may never look at Snow White in the same way again...
`Looking Back' is another Speckulation Entertainment hallmark - the `Daniel Boys and lucky female theatre star' duet. This time, Michael Bruce provides him and Alexia Khadime with a relationship dissection, reaching a wistful, quietly understated conclusion.
It is left to Michael Xavier to close the CD with another soft ballad, the titular "Unwritten Song." Unusually placed after another introspective number, the reason becomes obvious as it draws together the album's theme of exploring love's dimensions. The perfect end to a compelling showcase of an exceptionally talented composer's work, given full value by an equally talented team of artists and producers.