Newcomer Ben Black distinguishes himself from the rest of the pack.
First, there is his hauntingly beautiful voice capable of hitting high notes that most male singers never reach. Then, there is his treasure chest of surprises and unconventional material.
His second CD, "Remembered Faces/Private Places," takes on a multicultural theme. Black sings songs from Armenia, Japan, Brazil and other locales. He also tosses in a couple of well-chosen Sondheim tunes. This isn’t the first time that an album has taken listeners on a musical journey around the world. Sinatra’s "Come Fly with Me" and Crosby and Clooney’s "Fancy Meeting You Here" come to mind. While those were largely light-hearted romps, Black’s CD is a serious affair, tackling different languages and difficult issues.
His eight-minute Rodgers and Hammerstein "South Pacific" medley, for example, delivers a strong anti-racism message. Despite its good intentions, it is the album’s one false note, coming across too heavy-handed.
Overall, the Seattle-based singer is so earnest and has so much to say in song, you can’t help but like him.
He succeeds on a flawless Irish medley of "Danny Boy" and "My Wild Irish Rose." His phrasing is lovely and his tenor voice silky. Throughout the album, the musical accompaniment is sparse and classy.
Black does a splendid job on the Armenian "Chinar Es." He also wraps his tongue around the old Japanese song "Kojo No Tsuki." Black proves that he is a strong and original interpreter of song no matter the language.
Another highlight is "Old Friend," a song about two friends commiserating about lost love. Black manages to hit the right emotions, somewhere between heartache and wistful.
This CD isn’t your standard jazz offering, but is recommended for people who like songs of language and old-fashioned vocals.