BLOG Amy McCauley

NWR Issue 105

Port Talbot Tenor Paul Potts Comes Home in Style

Cover albums of pop songs from classical singers frequently strike false-sounding notes. The reasons are many: choosing tracks which exploit the ‘unusual’ juxtaposition of the classical voice with a contemporary pop melody is probably the main culprit. (This results in a gimmicky album, serving neither the original songs nor the specific qualities of the singer’s voice). Another problem stems from poor arrangements and orchestration, which often sound thin and insubstantial in support of a classical voice. (The very idea of ‘popera’ is surely misguided, unless in the case of musical theatre which – thanks to its dynamic narrative, use of choruses and multiple voices – carries the proposition to its ultimate conclusion).

A further problem arises when the tracks chosen simply fail to carry or justify a classical voice. This is the most humiliating outcome for a singer and seriously undermines his or her talent; usually the result of record company executives chasing a ‘crossover’ audience and a quick buck. Suffice to say I was sceptical about Paul Potts’ fifth studio album Home.

Imagine my astonishment when the album opened with an Italian version of ‘When We Dance’ (’Quando Balliam’) which instantly announces Potts’ voice as having a remarkable degree of emotional depth and integrity. The Italian lyric seems utterly right somehow, and this is down to both the arrangement – which includes brass, wind and strings – and Potts’ commitment to the song. The instrumentation is thoughtful and dynamic, fully supporting Potts’ delivery throughout. In addition to this, the arrangement offers a new interpretation of the song, and the beautiful shift from verse into chorus amplifies Gordon Sumner’s original melody. Potts’ singing style is three-dimensional and the vocal here is sensitive, carefully balancing passion with control.

The album’s strong arrangements continue to support Potts through a surprising and inspired selection of tracks: from Spandau Ballet’s ‘Through the Barricades’ to Frederic Chopin’s sublime ‘Tristezza. Only once did I feel a false note, and that was Charles Trenet’s ‘La Mer’, which never quite lifts off. This is perhaps down to the arrangement, which fails to extend or add something new to Trenet’s version. But aside from ‘La Mer’ – which arguably gives Potts few chances to explore his expressive range, both vocally and emotionally – the album as a whole feels both diverse and all-of-a-piece.

From George Harrison to Guns N’ Roses, Potts tackles a range of melodic and emotional landscapes. His ability to fully inhabit a number of lyric personas without lapsing into cheap melodramatic characterisation is astonishing, conveying real sincerity and depth of feeling in each song. His delivery is both restrained and yet full of feeling, and he possesses that rare gift of flexibility and integrity which means he can tackle a range of material while also pursuing his own distinctive vocal interpretation. The highlights for me are ‘Il Mio Miraculo’, ‘Quando Balliam’, ‘Something’ and ‘Home’, each of which is stunningly orchestrated so as to add something new and surprising to familiar songs.

While there are plenty of contemporary songs, not one of them feels gimmicky. The lush strings, harp and warm piano accompaniment work with, not against Potts’ voice, carrying and supporting the vocal delivery beautifully. Potts is that most rare of creatures: a singer whose fine tenor voice possesses tonal clarity as well as depth of feeling, and Home offers the perfect platform for his talents. Perhaps most impressively, he is not an egotistical singer: his vocals always work with the lyrical and melodic substance of the songs, augmenting the original material whilst contributing his own unique sound. Potts never uses the songs as vehicles through which to showcase his voice but makes them his own.


In a business which prizes fakery, ego and pretension, Paul Potts is a breath of fresh air. With Home he has produced an album that challenges the stereotype of the usual classical ‘covers’ album. Home is many different things: uplifting, melancholic, thoughtful, reflective and inspiring. Try it: you just might like it.

Amy McCauley writes for New Welsh Review




       


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