Review: New Album with Music from Julian Lennon, Mark Ballas, and the Others

A group of internationally established musicians and producers have joined forces to kick off the season of giving a little early by producing an album that aims to bring hope to children with cancer in Japan and their families. Though, what interested me most about this album wasn’t just the cause, but the award-winning talent that it summoned along with a few surprising vocal performances.

The album, Shine On Songs Volume One, includes contributions by the same people who brought us the classic Disney songs in the 90’s including those from the Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. A few of the songs truly show that fact, but what really screamed it was the amount of producers this album had who worked on a few Disney favorites. Academy award-winning lyricist Tim Rice and composer Alan Menken both donated ‘Howling At the Moon ‘ sung by Donna Burke and featured on the sound track of the Deon Opperman and Sean Else musical ‘Jock of the Bushveld ‘. Others included award-winning producers such as Dan Savant, Nick Wood, Michael Becker , Rob Chiarelli , and the three-time Emmy winner, Gordon Goodwin . According to Rob Chiarelli, both he and Becker were deeply committed to this cause for more than just the music.

In an interview Rob Chiarelli explains:

Michael and I have both spent a lot of time in Japan and we have fallen in love with the culture and the people. And we all have friends who were victims of the devastating earthquake. Beyond that, cancer claimed the life of my father and another close friend is fighting his own battle with the disease, so it definitely hits close to home.

Nevertheless, the only thing that truly counts when it comes to music is the artists and performances. In this case I don’t think it could go wrong with a Grammy award-winning artist like Julian Lennon, son of famed Beatles member John Lennon, on the track-list. He re-recorded his 2007 song ‘Children of the World‘, a top pick of mines on the album. The song was also featured on the Japanese anime movie ‘Coo‘. I thought his song on the album was smooth, great and classic Lennon Jr. Julian Lennon is known for his charitable works, so the fact he wanted to help the Tyler Foundation and the issue of cancer in Japan by donating a song for their album, isn’t that much of a shock.

What was a shock were the vocals and great performance done by Mark Ballas (also dancer on the ABC hit show Dancing With the Stars ). Frankly, I wasn’t even aware he made music up until now, yet according to ET Online Ballas actually released his own album late last year entitled HurtLoveBox. Recently, Mark has spread his wings in more diverse places. As some of you might have heard he was just announced as one of the judges for the 2012 Miss America Pageant.

Though when Mark isn’t performing, he is passionate about speaking to school-age kids about acceptance, sparked by his Uncle David’s suicide nine years ago. Mark and his mother Shirley formed The Ballas Foundation committed to removing the stigma associated with mental illness and suicide. I was curious about why the pro dancer decided to get involved with this particular project.

In a statement, Mark quotes:

I got involved with the project because two of the Producers on my HurtLoveBox CD were very involved. It started when Michael Becker invited Rob Chiarelli to be a part of the Tyler Foundation project and Rob was excited to co-produce 3 songs with him. Rob then ask me to get involved and I thought the project was important to support .”

Well, I think it was a good move for the album in general. Mark’s performance for the song ‘The Sun Always Shines ‘ was so vibrant and clean that it actually made me double-check that Mark Ballas was the vocalist.

That aside, the other artists on this album range in genres from the Nashville folk rock band Tin Cup Gypsy; Tierney Sutton, a three-time Grammy Nominee for “Best Jazz Vocal Album”, and the multilingual singer Wendy Parr (associated with the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack). Also, international artists such as the British reggae vocalist Maxi Priest ; plus, Japanese musicians Rie fu , Monday Michiru, and Donna Burke (theme song vocalist for both the ‘Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker’ and ‘Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles ‘ soundtracks). Gordon Goodwin also did arrangements for several tracks that included songs performed by his group ‘Big Phat Band’; plus, newcomer and Disney’s Next Big Thing winner, Amber Lily. The Goodwin’s band did a rhythmic performance on the track ‘Play With Me‘ by Amber Lily with a style of seems as if it came straight off the soundtrack of a Disney movie; yet, has lyrics taken anyway one might like them.

The bottom-line, if I had to choose my top tracks they would be “Children of the World” by Julian Lennon and my personal favorite the song entitled “The Sun Always Shines” performed extraordinarily well by Mark Ballas . Although, I’m sure that fans of the other artists on the album will go for their favorites. All-in-all, it’s all for a worthy cause. Goodwin said it best about how much of an impact the music could have on the lives of people in Japan. In the Japanese Magazine ‘Metropolis’ he said, “To know that your music is touching someone on a real level, there’s nothing better than that. A Grammy Award…is not better than that.” I’m sure that’s true. BUT, it is twice as nice when you have both right?

Thomasina Larkin, “Shining on after the darkness of death”, Japan Times
Dan Grunebaum, “Shine On! Songs Volume One: The Tyler Foundation’s compilation strives to bring hope to children in trouble”, Metropolis Magazine
“Sheng Ofunato City elementary school “Nimomakezu Rain” recording work songs into English”, Tohkai Shinpo Newspaper
“Charity CD Delivered to Sakari Elementary School”, Iwate Nippo Newspaper

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