George Michael, ‘Symphonica’ - Weekend

George Michael, ‘Symphonica’

FORGET about the health issues and personal problems — George Michael sounds just fine, super in fact, on his first new album in seven years, recorded live during his 2011-2012 “Symphonica” tour in Europe.

Music-Review-George-MichaelTime has not taken a toll on Michael’s voice, which if anything sounds more supple and emotive than during his earlier pop incarnations. Gone is the swagger and blatant “come and get it” sexuality, replaced by a more subtle singer happy to pay homage to Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye and other giants as the album unfolds.

Michael avoids a number of traps on this album, which was produced by the late Phil Ramone, who also teamed with the singer in 1999 on “Songs From the Last Century.” Michael deserves credit for moving deftly into big band and orchestral territory without in any way trying to imitate the master, Frank Sinatra, or taking on the vocal tics of the many other artists who have turned to American standards as a mid-career tonic. The style and phrasings are all his own, confident and understated, and the sparse arrangements allow ample room for his hypnotic voice to soar. By instinct, he shies way from self-dramatizing vocal pyrotechnics, letting the melodies and lyrics carry the day.

Michael sounds effortless and free, as if he could do this for decades to come. (AP)

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