Michael Ball

Heroes

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Best-known for his starring roles in Andrew Lloyd Webber productions The Phantom of the Opera, Aspects of Love, and The Woman in White, and more recently his Olivier Award-winning turn as Hairspray's Edna Turnblad, Michael Ball has recently started to move away from the musical theater-based material that defined his early recording career. Following the contemporary MOR of 2006's One Voice and the lounge-pop of Back to Bacharach, his fourteenth studio album, Heroes, is a collection of romantic classics originally performed by some of the musical icons he grew up listening to. The array of song choices may have changed, but his signature sound remains the same, as its 15 tracks stick to the same easy listening orchestral arrangements of their predecessors, with the tempo never straying beyond walking pace, besides an enjoyable duet with '70s crooner Tony Christie on his The Protectors' theme tune, "Avenues and Alleyways." A rare spark of invention occurs on his rendition of Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind," which cleverly opens with a few bars from George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," but elsewhere, Heroes is very much faithful to the originals, and includes covers of songs from the '50s (Nat King Cole's "When I Fall in Love," Johnny Mathis' "Misty"), the '60s (Tom Jones' "I'll Never Fall In Love Again," Long John Baldry's "Let the Heartaches Begin"), and and the '70s (Barry Manilow's "Weekend in New England," Neil Diamond's "Play Me"). Of course, when performing tracks by such legendary icons as Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles, Ball is always going to come off as second best, but although he occasionally descends into tribute act territory, particularly on the likes of Elvis Presley's "I Can't Help Falling in Love," for the most part he manages to inject enough of his own personality into the material to avoid it being a pure karaoke affair. Heroes' old-fashioned nature means it's unlikely to transcend his loyal, predominantly older, female fan base, but it's perfectly timed for Mother's Day, and will undeniably preserve his status as the natural successor to Michael Crawford.

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