Sunday, 21 August 2016

CD Review: An American Victory (2016 Concept Album)

“No way to change that now"

The art of the concept album can be a tricky one, as is evidenced on An American Victory, an album of 21 songs from a new musical written by first-time composer Louis R Bucalo. The show is set in 1801 in a time of lawlessness on the seas, Thomas Jefferson's government struggling to deal with the piracy that continually holds their ships to ransom at a time when money is scarce and the US navy is not yet fully in existence.

At least that's what the detailed synopsis tells us. One of the crucial problems with An American Victory is that you'd be hard-pressed to work out what is happening from these songs alone, they lack any kind of narrative impetus which is close to a fatal flaw when it comes to storytelling in musical theatre. Too little drama emerges from both music and lyrics, which leaves vast swathes of it feeling inert despite its occasionally stirring nature.

And there's also an issue about its lack of tonal variety. Lord knows I love a ballad but about two thirds of the album is stuck in stodgy sentimentality, whilst the rest is marooned at the same sub-Les Mis rousing note - it's either one or the other and it soon becomes wearing. The choice to only use a chorus on the final song feels baffling in this respect as much of the score sadly merges into a bland whole that aims for the epic but ends up emotionless.

That's not to say that it isn't occasionally pleasant to listen to. The quality of the voice cast is strong, mixing lesser known performers with starrier names like Ramin Karimloo, John Owen-Jones and Aaron Tveit, but Bucalo's decision to have different performers singing the same character adds a further distancing layer from the material that adds another challenge. Karimloo's 'All I Am' is pleasant, Ashley Brown's 'I Could Never Be The One' is better, but one is left feeling that there's an immense amount of work to do before An American Victory could hit the stage successfully.

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