Olivia Newton-John

Warm and Tender

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Warm and Tender is a major achievement for Olivia Newton-John, a majestic combination of lullabies and standards. Where Eva Cassidy found fame with her posthumous folk-jazz version of "Over the Rainbow," Newton-John takes the Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg classic from The Wizard of Oz and gives it a mature and classy reading. Judy Garland still sounded like young Dorothy, even on her final recording, July-London-1969, but this especially beautiful rendition stands on its own with the popular artist taking the beloved classic to a new place. The title track is a co-write by John Farrar and Newton-John for her daughter, Chloe, who was the inspiration for these recordings. Newton-John writes extensive liner notes -- thoughts on the recording of the disc as well as environmental issues. As a United Nations Honorary Ambassador for the Environment, the singer put her fame to good use, though without a hit single, the message hardly reached the millions of fans who purchased Newton-John's more commercial sounds. Carol Hall's composition "Jenny Rebecca" and the songs that follow on Warm and Tender play more like Linda Ronstadt with Nelson Riddle than the lullabies that some of the songs really are. The beautiful strings of Melbourne's Victoria Philharmonic Orchestra put the singer's voice in a very different setting than what her fans are used to. Newton-John performing Rodgers & Hammerstein must have been a totally fulfilling experience for her, and she does a great job on "You'll Never Walk Alone," "The Twelfth of Never," "When You Wish Upon a Star," and "Brahms Lullaby." The revelation here, however, is taking the Burt Bacharach and Hal David classic "Reach out for Me" and breathing a different life into it. Where Dionne Warwick was the perfect '60s artist to bring the song home, Olivia Newton-John puts her voice atop John Farrar and Brian Mann's instrumentation and Sean Callery's synclavier. The result is as astonishing as the work with the Victorian Philharmonic on some of the other tracks. If Olivia Newton-John made Warm and Tender to prove to the world that she is an artist with depth and courage, she achieved her goal. It's a marvelous recording.

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