Sunday, January 3, 2016

Is It Love? - Cilla Black

Is It Love?
Cilla Black
Capitol ST 2308

This is my belated tribute to Cilla Black who died last August.  This was her debut album in the United States.  Seven of its eleven tracks are taken from her English debut album, "Cilla" and there are also two British singles, an American single and one previously unreleased track.  The album opens with the single "Is It Love?" which Black performed in the movie "Ferry Across the Mersey."  It was written by Bobby Willis who she would later marry.  The single flopped but I think it deserved a better fate.  It is my favorite track on the album.  Black gives the song a sultry romantic treatment on the verses before unleashing her soaring voice full throttle on the choruses.  "I'm Not Alone Any More" was written by Clive Westlake and the British singer Kenny Lynch.  It is another one of my favorite tracks on the album.  It is driven by a dynamic string arrangement and a terrific soulful vocal from Black that displays her range to great effect.  "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" was a hit single in England, but the Righteous Brothers classic single rendered it irrelevant in the American market.  She sings it well but the arrangement pales in comparison to Phil Spector's extravaganza.  Next up is a cover of the Little Anthony and the Imperials' hit "Goin' Out of My Head."  It sticks pretty close to the original and though she gives a strong performance, it seems pointless to me.  I feel the same about her cover of Doris Troy's "What'cha Gonna Do About It."  She closes side one with a pop standard, Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To."  The song has a swinging big band arrangement and a booming vocal from Black.  It has a lot of energy, but I'd prefer a more subdued and romantic interpretation for the song.  Side two opens with another pop standard, Victor Young's "Love Letters."  I like Black's romantic vocal and the restrained, contemporary arrangement.  "(Love is like a) Heat Wave" is another useless cover that copies the classic version by Martha and the Vandellas.  It is followed by another pop standard, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's "Ol' Man River."  The song is given a punchy big band arrangement and Black's big voice handles the song with ease.  I suspect it was largely included just to showcase her vocal skill.  The album concludes with a pair of Bacharach/David songs originally recorded by Dionne Warwick, "This Empty Place" and "Anyone Who Had a Heart" which was a big hit single for Black in England.  Neither song strays far from the Warwick versions although I prefer Bacharach's subtler arrangements.  Warwick was a more seductive and smoother singer than Black which I think suits the songs better.  Black's powerful voice is too robust for the sensitivity of the two songsBlack was a talented singer with a fabulous voice, but this album is undermined by the excessive amount of useless covers.  I also would have preferred a more rock oriented selection of material although I can't deny she handles the pop standards quite well.  Although she was often associated with the British Invasion because of her connection to the Beatles, Brian Epstein and George Martin, she was more in the mold of a classic pop crooner.  She had the skill to sing anything, but I suspect that she was most comfortable with the cabaret/pop standard material.  I'm not a big fan of that stuff but I still buy Black's records whenever I see them because I like her voice so much.  Recommended to fans of Timi Yuro.

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