Review: Dwight Townsend, Finale: Omega to Alpha

Dwight Townsend, Finale: Omega to Alpha

08 Oct, 2014 Kelly O'Neil

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Life has a habit of catching up to even the most ambitious.  Despite having spent the last fifteen years re-igniting his passion for singing and songwriting, baritone Dwight Townsend is releasing his final double disc collection aptly titled Finale: Omega to Alpha.  Fittingly he includes the Alpha number, a 1955 recording from Townsend’s time at Yale University where he sang with the prestigious a cappella group The Whiffenpoofs.  Singing lead on “Without a Song” from the musical Great Day the young baritone interestingly displays the same vibrato and inflections as he does at eighty years old, albeit with a deeper range.  The Omega is the last song Townsend ever recorded 58 years later for this collection entitled “Are You Having Any Fun”.  The jumpy number encompasses the satisfied senior’s outlook on life with the lyrics, “Have a little fun / You’re not gonna live forever”.

Not showing much sign of decay, Townsend’s booming voice is in good form on his last project.  “I Got Plenty of Nothin’” from Porgy and Bess is well done in all its show tune regalia and he sounds extremely comfortable enveloped by strings in the Frank Sinatra hit “Young at Heart”.  Townsend also excels at the Doris Day ballad “When I Fall in Love” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” laced in cello from A Little Night Music.

The retired Floridian exerts creative control by inserting his own original epilogue and prologue to The Wizard of Oz’s signature “Over the Rainbow” with a jazzy saxophone accompaniment.  In Irving Berlin’s “It’s a Lovely Day Today” Townsend adds snippets from another of the composer’s works, “Blue Skies” amidst lively woodwind arrangements.   The baritone adds lyrics to the classical Czech composer Antonin Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” in “Going Home” concluding with a grandiose horn statement.  Extra lyrical embellishment is also added to Louis Armstrong’s hit “What a Wonderful World”.  Townsend includes an extra verse musing, “Look and you’ll see a memory.”  Additions aside, the song sounds completely different from the original with Townsend’s engaging, articulate voice.

His timbre is not the best fit however for the silky smoothness of Nat King Cole in “Unforgettable”.  Townsend’s version sounds more like a testimony or a decree and there is a slight crack in his voice.  He also is mismatched in “Feelin’ Good” lacking the swank needed to ignite the song.  Townsend does however excel in the moving and climatic “Fanny” and the heartfelt wholesome love song “You’re My Girl”.  The best vocal performance on the album is the dramatic “Another Autumn” with its genuine bitter sweetness a perfect fit for his mature voice.  The piano work on the piece is equally gripping from the open bars to the lovely nuanced bridge solo.

Once again, Townsend has enlisted the talents of members of the Dallas Symphony to provide additional instrumentation and is undoubtedly suburb.  The alto saxophone in the 1957 Sinatra hit “All the Way” plays with a lovely tone and cool smoothness with graceful falls and expert timing.  There is an exciting, lively flute solo in “’s Wonderful” from Funny Face, stunning violin work on the Charlie Chaplin melody “Smile” and romantic trumpet in “Long Before I Knew You”.

Another tune pulled from the soundtrack of the musical Bells Are Ringing is the high-stepping “The Party’s Over” with full orchestration.  A more jazzy selection is the fun 1936 Benny Goodman hit “The Glory of Love”.  A more diverse piece is the samba “Yesterday I Heard the Rain” penned by Mexican composer Armando Manzanero.  Townsend’s confident vocals are embellished with copious strings and jazz guitar counterpoint.

The well traveled baritone has amassed a considerable collection of works in the sunset of his life and the musical community is all the better for it.

Reviewers Name:        Kelly O’Neil
Rating:    4 stars