MICHAEL Ball remains one of Britain’s most charismatic and best loved performers thanks to a powerful voice, a winning personality and an uncanny ability to pick projects that capture the public’s imagination (especially on stage).
Hence, it comes as no surprise to find that his latest album, a collection of romantic classics inspired by his heroes, is as warm and enjoyable as we’ve come to expect.
Ball himself states: “I’ve wanted to record a late-night collection of timeless, romantic songs sung by some of my own musical heroes for ages. So, Heroes is a tribute to the singers I grew up listening to, whose records I bought when I was a teenager and who, over the years, have taught me so much about singing and performing.
“I’m talking about legendary performers who have entertained millions of people all over the world and whose work simply never dates.”
Hence, the songs included here were all hits in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s and include Summer Wind by Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis’ Misty (from one of Michael’s favourite films, Play Misty For Me); Scott Walker’s Joanna, Neil Diamond’s Play Me and Weekend In New England, written by one of Ball’s favourite writers, Randy Edeman, and an American No.1 for Barry Manilow in 1976.
There’s also Billy Joel’s classic New York State of Mind, which opens with the first few bars of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue, For Once In My Life as inspired by the Tony Bennett ballad version rather than the more commonly known Stevie Wonder take, and a robust recording of Avenues And Alleyways that features a duet with Tony Christie.
All are delivered amid piano, brass and string arrangements, while enabling Ball to showcase his winning vocals.
If there’s a criticism, the mood is very reverent and the emphasis seems to lean a little too heavily towards the earnest ballads – especially when you can hear the joy he brings to a livelier moment such as Avenues And Alleyways.
But in most respects, this is a collection of cover versions that’s delivered with high style and undisputed class. Highlights therefore include Play Me, which drifts along serenely with a delectable chorus (“you are the words, I am the tune, play me”), Misty, which has a laidback jazz vibe, a deeply romantic take on When I Fall In Love that features some fine strings, and Joanna.
Kudos, too, for a thrilling rendition of Joel’s New York State of Mind and the lively crowd-pleaser of an album finale that is Avenues And Alleyways. Ball’s popularity only looks set to soar.