Vonda Shepard

Heart and Soul: New Songs from Ally McBeal Featuring Vonda Shepard

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Vonda Shepard's curious ascension into pop prominence on the heels of the Ally McBeal television series offers evidence that, if you just hang around Los Angeles long enough, you may finally get recognized. After years of laboring as a lower echelon L.A. rock singer/songwriter and backup singer (a second-rate Bonnie Raitt, one might say), Shepard hit paydirt of a sort playing a club singer on TV, and the quasi-soundtrack album Songs from Ally McBeal, which includes oldies covers from the '60s and '70s, was a million-selling Top Ten hit in 1998. The inevitable follow-up is more of the same, though this time around Shepard gets to pen five of the 14 tracks. Like its predecessor, however, Heart and Soul: New Songs from Ally McBeal shows that what may work on TV (or in the movies or on-stage, for that matter) -- a singer-actress-whatever -- covering old, familiar songs within the context of a plot, doesn't necessarily translate to a recording that, by its nature, has to compete with the original recordings whose emotional resonance lent the show its gravity to begin with. Put simply, who needs to hear Vonda Shepard singing "Crying" when we still have Roy Orbison's version? Even more egregious, at the behest of the TV producer, lyrics to some songs have been changed or deleted -- now it's "To You, with Love" rather than "To Sir, with Love"! You can understand the songwriters and music publishers acquiescing to this (a payday is a payday), but it's even more reason to disdain these threadbare covers. The irony is that, on her own, Shepard is not untalented: "Read Your Mind," the lead-off track, is a tentative acceptance of love that might as easily be directed to Shepard's unexpected (and no doubt temporary) new audience as to a new boyfriend; "Confetti" is a '60s-style rocker that seems to be attacking the kind of kids who look to Ally McBeal for fashion and dating tips; and "Baby, Don't You Break My Heart Slow" is a good romantic ballad in the currently popular Diane Warren/adult contemporary style. Such material demonstrates that Shepard is worthy of a major-label release of her own songs, and it can only be hoped that she gets one, given that the disappointing early response to this collection suggests that the Ally McBeal connection has probably run its course.

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