If you're a fan of -- or even a listener unfamiliar with -- pianist Scott Bradlee's inventive reimaginings of modern-day pop tunes, 2018's The Essentials II is the place to go first; that is, after you check out his videos online. As with 2016's The Essentials, this second volume includes more of Bradlee's hugely popular cover songs that take relatively contemporary hits by artists as diverse as Ed Sheeran, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Sia, and Meghan Trainor and rework them in a variety of vintage styles, from '20s trad jazz to '50s doo wop to '60s soul, and so on. Generally speaking, Bradlee is quite successful in his endeavors, and more often than not his versions are as catchy and appealing as the originals. In fact, he sometimes works to outdo the original artist, as in the case of Halsey's "Closer," reworked here into a buoyant 1950s-style doo wop anthem featuring singer Kenton Chen. That track, as with others on The Essentials II, serves to nicely reframe and illuminate much of the melodic and harmonic content that the original song didn't fully exploit. Elsewhere, Bradlee shines a spotlight on longtime collaborators like Haley Reinhart, who offers a soulful, jazzy ballad version of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun," and Maiya Sykes, who delivers an inspired vocalese take on the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Juicy." Just as jazz musicians adopted Broadway songs and turned them into standards during the '40s and '50s, Bradlee has does the same with contemporary pop music. The Essentials II works because a good song is a good song regardless of what style it's performed in.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar
feat: Haley Reinhart