Albert Hammond's legacy as a hugely talented singer and songwriter goes back to the 1960's. He had a couple of hits himself, notably, It Never Rains In Southern California in the USA and Free Electric Band in the UK. But his true claim to fame is the many wonderfully emotive songs he has co-written, which make up some of the best tunes of the last fifty years. His songs have been recorded by Diana Ross, Tina Turner, the Hollies, Radiohead, Starship, Whitney Houston, The Carpenters, Celine Dion, the list is as seemingly endless as his talent.
In Symphony is an album of songs most of which are so instantly recognisable and familiar that you'll easily be singing along. Some of his timeless songs have been given a symphonic makeover with the help of The London Session Orchestra and the London Voice Choir.
Orchestral crossover music doesn't always work, but then if the orchestra is simply there to pad out mediocre songs the result is going to sound false and contrived. If however, the songs were somewhere close to perfection in the first place, then it doesn't matter if you take away all the instruments or add an orchestra; a great song is a great song. The right arrangement should serve to embellish that, not wallpaper over cracks as is too often the case. Hammond, an award-winning songwriter of terrific notability never falls into that trap on this album. When I Need You was made famous Leo Sayer, but nothing surpasses the heart-achingly beautiful sentiment of the man who wrote the song. Inspired by being on tour, alone in a hotel room and missing the one he loved the pathos of that emotion exudes from the Hammond's version. The subtleties of the orchestral arrangements are brought to the fore in a beautiful version of When You Tell Me That You Love Me, followed by an equally strong version of One Moment In Time. Hammond's vocals are tender and heartfelt throughout the album, often reminiscent of Neil Diamond in terms of tonality. He also has a gift of being able to convey pure emotion through his voice and losing himself in the song; something that not many songwriters are able to do. Give A Little Love takes on a new dimension as a choral calypso whilst the mournful feel of Alejate previously performed by both Josh Groban and Celine Dion, is given an added sadness from the arrangement. The addition of the bounding uptempo orchestra and choir on I'm A Train shifts from the country hobo feel to a song more akin to a Disney soundtrack, that's no criticism, rather - a prime example of how an arrangement can change the entire feel of a song, and the lively, elaborate arrangement works really well. The Air That I Breath stands up as a stadium anthem on this version, Don't Turn Around is once again delivered with characteristic raw emotion and Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now once again reminds us of his abilities to craft a perfect and classy pop song. Those who have seen Albert Hammond perform some of these songs at his live shows will already be aware of his absorbing stage persona, but even with the orchestra backing him, the focus still comes down to the songs. There is something special at being able to listen to the songs performed by the man who wrote them, in a way that he wanted, and they sound pretty good from here.
Groupie Rating 4/5