Bright Eyed Joy: The Songs of Ricky Ian Gordon

Eric Stern

  • AllMusic Rating
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

Bright Eyed Joy: The Songs of Ricky Ian Gordon Review

by William Ruhlmann

On her 1998 debut solo album Way Back to Paradise, Broadway star Audra McDonald recorded four musical settings composed by Ricky Ian Gordon for poems by Langston Hughes and James Agee. That may have been the inspiration for this album, on which McDonald, Judy Blazer, Darius de Haas, Adam Guettel and Dawn Upshaw sing more poems musicalized by Gordon. (Three of the tracks from Way Back to Paradise, the Hughes poems "Dream Variations," "Song for a Dark Girl," and "Daybreak in Alabama," are repeated here.) Gordon is something of a hybrid composer, not exactly classical, certainly not pop, perhaps leaning toward the musical theater, at least at its artier end. Producer Tommy Krasker in his liner notes name-checks Leonard Bernstein, Marc Blitzstein, and Stephen Sondheim for the sake of comparison, and those are fair antecedents, at least so far as they indicate Gordon's aspirations. He chooses a variety of types of poems here, and he treats them in different ways, as do the different performers. The ideal matching remains McDonald/Hughes, and there are more of those, "Poor Girl's Ruination/The Dream Keeper," "Love Song for Lucinda" (with de Haas joining in), and "Joy" (which also features de Haas, Theresa McCarthy, and Guettel). Hughes' liberal sentiments are well expressed by McDonald, and Gordon gives them relatively simple music that allows McDonald room for that expression. He also uses some interesting musical forms, such as the ragtime that comes into "Love Song for Lucinda." He is less effective in conveying the caustic humor of Dorothy Parker, at least in "The Red Dress," in which opera singer Upshaw completely ignores Parker's sarcasm. "Résumé/Wail/Frustration," three Parker poems about suicide and murder sung by Blazer, a musical comedy star, and Chris Pedro Trakas, work much better, in part because the singers are interested in the meaning of the words. Blazer also does well by Agee's "I'm Open All Night." Other songs sound sub-operatic and merely pedestrian, the poems mere excuses for the musical exercises. Thus, the album on the whole is uneven, however nobly intended and expertly performed.

Track Listing

Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Darius de Haas 01:18 SpotifyAmazon
2 Audra McDonald 03:11 SpotifyAmazon
3 Adam Guettel 02:49 SpotifyAmazon
4 Cormac McCarthy 04:45 SpotifyAmazon
5 Darius de Haas 01:51 SpotifyAmazon
6 02:02 SpotifyAmazon
7 Darius de Haas / Audra McDonald 03:47 SpotifyAmazon
8 Dawn Upshaw 02:30 SpotifyAmazon
9 Judy Blazer 02:37 SpotifyAmazon
10 Adam Guettel 03:01 SpotifyAmazon
11 Judy Blazer / Adam Guettel / Dawn Upshaw 03:36 SpotifyAmazon
12 Judy Blazer 03:56 SpotifyAmazon
13 Audra McDonald 02:39 SpotifyAmazon
14 Audra McDonald 01:58 SpotifyAmazon
15 Audra McDonald 02:39 SpotifyAmazon
16 Audra McDonald 03:17 SpotifyAmazon
17 03:20 SpotifyAmazon
18 Adam Guettel / Darius de Haas / Audra McDonald 02:39 SpotifyAmazon
blue highlight denotes track pick