Audra McDonald 

Happy Songs

It's been two years since Broadway phenom Audra McDonald's How Glory Goes CD made her one of the hottest young genre-bending artists, but she definitely hasn't been wasting all that time lounging on her laurels or spit-polishing her three Tony Awards. In addition to giving an Emmy-nominated performance opposite Emma Thompson in HBO's Wit, McDonald also gave birth to a daughter, who -- along with the September 11 attacks -- inspired this musical journey through the "gentle escapism" of songs from the 1930s and '40s written by the likes of Harold Arlen, George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Duke Ellington. But this is no mere rehash of traditional standards from the Great American Songbook; rather, the Fresno native digs deep into the composers' trunks to find gems such as Arlen's gospel-inspired "Ain't It de Truth?" and bluesy "Ill Wind (You're Blowin' No Good)," Berlin's "Suppertime," and a version of the Gershwins' "He Loves and She Loves" that is such a subtle caress it's positively breathtaking. And then there's the showcase of a range that must bedevil pseudo-divas Streisand and Celine Dion through gutsy, swingin' tunes like "I Must Have That Man!," "See What I Wanna See," "Beat the Dog" (sporting such lyrics as "You break the rules/You pee in pools/But still I love you so"), and "Lose That Long Face." The fourteen-song collection also features arrangements era-intrinsic enough to create a Twilight Zone effect by making listeners think they have somehow managed to tune into a radio station in the 1930s.

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