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Jonathan Estabrooks – These Miles – Album Review

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Jonathan Estabrooks – These Miles – Album Review

Jonathan Estabrooks Toronto


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By: Andrej Ivanov

Jonathan Estabrooks is a Canadian, Ottawa-born, baritone operatic singer. He was classically trained at and graduated from the most prestigious school of music, Julliard School. He is an active member of the Canadian and American Opera, Concert and Musical Theater worlds.

He first sang in the famous Puccini opera, Tosca, at the age of 11 as a shepherd boy. Since then, he has been growing as a performance singer, performing as a solo baritone in The Brahms Requiem in 2008, and has won top prize in a competition presented by the Oratorio Society of New York in April 2010.

He has also performed for the Governor General, The Prime Minister of Canada, the US Ambassador to Canada, The Italian Ambassador to Canada and President Bill Clinton.

Estabrooks was first discovered by the now-infamous talent scout and businessman Simon Cowell. With Simon Cowell’s creations such as American Idol, The X Factor, the Got Talent series, and the formation of the opera group Il Divo, and a variety of other talent under his belt, being picked up by this man is, more often than not, a sign of true talent and real potential.

Estabrooks’ first full-length, titled “These Miles”, will be released on April 8th 2014. We had the chance to get a preview of the album.

Initially, I was caught off guard to find out that this album was a series of cover songs by famous artists such as Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, Elvis Presley and Elvis Costello, just to name a few. All the songs are performed alongside the Macedonia Radio Opera, giving a new depth to every cover. As I listened to the album though, I found myself enjoying some renditions more than others.

The opening track was a cover of Neil Diamond’s Play Me. It holds relatively true to the original, adding an operatic depth to the original song, and fits well with Estabrooks’ baritone voice. The original music is transformed into a wonderful orchestral rendition, giving a soaring sound to the song, interlaced with Estabrook’s operatic vibratos.

A baritone voice, due to its depth, can be very hard to fit with certain songs, especially if the originals are more sopranos or altos. One in particular that loses the charm of the original rendition is Hymne de l’Amour. Edith Piaf is well-known for her vibratos and the intricacies in the simplicity of her voice. Sadly Estabrooks’ rendition doesn’t quite live up to the beautiful simplicity that Edith Piaf gives to this song. In the end, this one in particular feels over-complicated, and probably should have been avoided.

On the other hand, quite a few songs paid a beautiful homage to the predecessors that wrote the songs. The renditions of Le Cose Che Tu Sei and Por Una Cabeza are two examples of such a circumstance. The first is an opera aria that was later covered by Josh Groban, to which Jonathan Estabrooks can easily be compared to, due to the fact that they are both baritones. In a way, it seems as though Estabrooks pays homage not only to the aria, but to his inspiration. The latter of the two musical pieces is a classical tango piece, made famous by tango scenes in movies such as Scent of a Woman (Al Pacino’s academy-award winning performance in 1992), and in True Lies, when Schwarzenegger tangos with a woman at the beginning of the film, and with his wife at the end.

The song Calling You is a jazzy rendition of a Jeff Buckley piece. It has a smoking lounge 1920s/prohibition era feeling to it that is very unique and stands out in comparison to the rest of the album. The fact that Estabrooks uses his falsetto in this piece adds only to how memorable it is. He uses it very sparingly, but it shows that he is truly not limited to one octave and can vary pitches with great ease.

In similar 1920s fashion, Estabrooks gives a performance of Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home worthy of Frank Sinatra himself. Initially, I assumed that it was in fact a Frank Sinatra cover, but as it were, it was a piece written by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen, covered by many people. In fact, this is probably one of the best renditions of the song, as everything flows perfectly together.

Last, but not least, worth mentioning is Always on my Mind, an Elvis Presley cover. I can seldom say that someone outdoes the King, but Elvis has left the building and was replaced by Jonathan Estabrooks. Honestly, this song outdid itself and shines out of the album.

Overall, despite the album having some gems, other pieces are not well suited for the vocal range and potential of this talented operatic singer. I was glad to see that the formula of Il Divo was not entirely followed, in that I believe that the last song, where Estabrooks shines his brightest, Fly Away, is an original and his best performance where he really let himself have fun with the music. Despite these gems, some parts in my opinion fall short in representing the talent this Canadian vocalist really holds.  I’m sure that the best from Jonathan Estabrooks is yet to come.

Estabrooks plays this friday April 4th at The Drake Hotel in Toronto – Details: HERE

Track by Track Breakdown by: Elyse Simpson

Play Me
The use of hand drums three quarters through lining up with the lyrics “it was that I came traveled” reminds a little of arrangements seen on Paul Simon’s Graceland. An uplifting and optimistic choice for the album’s single.

Kathy’s Song
This Simon and Garfunkel cover is a well-played follow up from the previous tracks influence of Graceland. The delivery is unaffected for a well-known classic that could easily be a gaudy mash of orchestrated forcefulness. It’s a warm and an engaging endearing look back.

Time After Time
Jonathan wastes no time in taking on well-loved hits to tackle is his own right including this Lauper track. An interest rhythmic play and half time phrasing on the chorus are original and worth the listen. Unfortunately slight liberties with lyrics and spurt backing vocals keep the track from becoming something really special.

Le Cose Che Tu Sei
This Italian piece that translates to The Things You Are to Me people will know from Josh Groban’s haunting rendition. Even against Groban’s powerful voice this holds its own. The swells and dips are well timed and show the richness of Jonathan’s lower range.

Calling You
This minor note of the album is a contrast to the rest of the grand elements built throughout. Although grossly different from the other tracks the change of pace offers a stronger narrative when listening to the album as a whole.

The quirk that makes the Costello track originally so charming is lost by how strongly Jonathan’s vocal presence comes through. Although with that standard in mind there is still a great amount of heart.

Por Una Cabesa
A fabulously dramatic intro opens this 1930s written tango. The embellishments on the pizzicato strings matched by the voice call and answer keeps driving it well balanced, highlighting the dictation throughout.

Always on My Mind
As a heartsick fan of this song in its versions from Willie Nelson to Judith Hill it’s hard not to love it in all its forms no matter what they are. The first minute in sets a high expectation. It’s sweet, sentimental but never drops into sappy elevator territory. A great example of harnessing the core meaning of a song and its energy.

Away From The Roll of The Sea
A relaxing pick after the country classic to this conversation between male and female dynamics. Easy, content, it connects together like glue and a guide to the final songs.

Any Place I Hang my Hat is Home
Covering yet another base in genre with a musical theatre number from St Louis Woman. Strength on all fronts especially tone it is a wonder why this was not chosen as the single. All characteristics keep this fun lighthearted and wonderfully cheeky.

All These Things (Hymne à l’amour)
No matter how charming the sentiment, a song like this lends itself to ache. Jonathan uses this to his advantage and couples the ageless jazz piece All These Things with the French echo of one Edith Piaf’s greats (Hymne à l’amour). The concept is brilliant and the execution supports it.

Fly Away
The fake finish in all its bittersweet goodness is starkly broken with this cheery finale that is a high energy finish to round things out. A well placed momentum within the ending moments to connect with the listener concretely.

For more information on Jonathan Estabrooks and tour dates click HERE


Written collaboratively by Andrej Ivanov and Elyse Simpson

About Elyse Simpson:

Élyse Simpson is a Writer/Journalist published nationally and internationally in both print and online media.
Nomadic-ally driven, Simpson’s background in arts and business have given way to writing on a embracing number of topics including fashion, philosophy, football, food, lifestyle and music.
When not writing, Élyse can be found seriously thinking about writing behind a copy of Vogue and the The New York Times underneath a pile of coffee cups.


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