By Jeff Walsh
When I first received Daphne Rubin-Vega's latest CD, Redemption Songs, I went into it thinking it'll be good to catch up on her latest project. But I quickly realized that wasn't the proper mindset.
While I had seen her perform in both Rent and the Rocky Horror Show, this CD was technically her project, reflecting her choices, tastes and personality, and not another situation where she was hired to perform and sing in a certain way.
And, apparently, left to her own devices, Rubin-Vega wants to rock.
The CD starts with "Citizens of the World," which has a very Alanis Morrisette "All I Really Want" vibe, only heavier. The production on this song and throughout the entire CD is top-notch, with a great band behind her. "Luca Ariel" is her promise to her newborn in both English and Spanish: "I have waited such a long time, to behold your pretty face, little piece of my beloved, now I know how to flow tears of grace, how I live to wrap you in my warm embrace."
The only criticism I have of the CD is that the variety of songs doesn't give the overall CD a cohesive feel. It is less a journey than a collection of songs, which I think was primarily due to the jumps from rocking numbers to ballads to reggae, ending with a cover of "Rainbow Connection."
Lyrically, there is a consistent vibe although they are often very on the nose, rather than masked with imagery or metaphor ("The soundtrack of life is played by the heartstrings"), but Rubin-Vega sings them all beautifully and with an earnestness that makes you go with the lyrics, even when it's a challenge ("Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds"? Why not 'Only we can free our minds'?).
But, despite those shortcomings, I found the CD fun and inviting, and made me want to keep track of what she'll do next. Well, after she finishes her current run on Broadway in the Les Miserables revival... oh, and after she goes off to star in Jack Goes Boating on Broadway with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and well, you get the idea...
For the Rentheads on the site, let's just say there's another CD where some Mimi has been emancipated.
You can hear some of the songs on her MySpace page