Album Review: Chenoweth keeps it classy with The Art of Elegance


\\<\/iframe\>It takes a lot for me to break out the superdrive for my MacBook Pro. I'm long past the 2010 notion of CDs; even my car's once-modern CD/mp3 player gave way to an iPhone-friendly device early this year. Everything I need I can get from Apple Music or through other means; as for the sample CDs sent by record companies? Of the 10% we receive that jive with my peculiar musical proclivities, 99% of those are utter crap.

Kristen Chenoweth's new album, The Art of Elegance, however, made me dig out that CD burner.

I came late to the Chenoweth party; I first heard her sing when I saw her in Wicked. My cousin, more up on the musical theater scene than I, went to see the show with me.

"You'd think that voice would grate on you," she told me. "but it doesn't."

True enough. When speaking, Chenoweth has the sort of voice reminiscent of a little girl who never grew up, but she works it endearingly. When singing, her voice goes from "little girl cute" to powerful and dynamic. Aside from the accepted raw talent in her voice, Chenoweth's ability to sing anything from pop to opera — and sing it damn well — makes her a modern-day standard. She made this clear with her first album, Let Yourself Go. Since that 2001 release, Chenoweth has released four more albums; The Art of Elegance marks her sixth album and it lacks the powerful Chenoweth-centric songs of that long-ago album.

Instead, Chenoweth here turns to the classics and, in a move not often embraced by her contemporaries, gives these songs traditional treatments. She focuses on the power of the original instrumentation of classics from Gershwin ("Someone to Watch Over Me" is one example) to Bacharach (with "A House is Not a Home").

The biggest — and perhaps most delightful — surprise on this album comes in the form of Chenoweth's treatment of "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart." Nowhere more than here does a song seem to beg for Chenoweth to, pardon the pun, let herself go.

She does not, instead remaining faithful to the song's classic arrangement. She allows the quality of her voice and the genius of the music carry the song. And, as with every other song on The Art of Elegance, the class she brings to the music by doing this speaks not only to the power of the songs, but the true range of a talent that doesn't have to go big to be big. Instead, the songs stand on their innate strength., tried and tested over the years.

"A classic is a classic," Chenoweth says, "whether it was written last year or in 1960."

She should know.