Album Review: Albert Hammond – IN SYMPHONY

Albert Hammond IN SYMPHONY

Albert Hammond re-records hits from his core back catalogue with IN SYMPHONY 

After more than five decades in the music industry, you’d think that Albert Hammond would be tempted to hang up his guitar and take it easy but the legendary singer-songwriter is showing no signs of slowing down. At 72, Hammond is still writing and performing material, re-scoring some of his biggest hits for his new album IN SYMPHONY.

For those who don’t recongise the name, Hammond is a London born, Gibraltarian raised singer/songwriter best known for his work in the 1970s and 80s. With over 30 chart-topping hits and 360 million records sales to his name, the prolific songwriter has penned hits for a multitude of artists including as Diana Ross, Whitney Houston and Leo Sayer, as well as being a solo singer in his own right with hits like DOWN BY THE RIVER, IT NEVER RAINS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, THE FREE ELECTRIC BAND, I’M A TRAIN and WHEN I’M GONE.

IN SYMPHONY is Hammond’s 22nd studio album and is an orchestrated version of his core back catalogue. The 12 track recording features a collection of songs written and re-recorded by Hammond over five days at the famous Abbey Road Studio as a celebration of his enduring legacy.

As the title suggests, the tracks have been lavishly adapted with orchestration and choir by acclaimed US producer/arranger Rob Mathes. Key virtuosi from several British orchestras, the Trinity Boys Choir and the much sought-after London Voices High perform along Hammond’s distinctive vocals and guitar to deliver a suitably grandiose sound to the album.

The album opens with Hammond’s 1972 hit IT NEVER RAINS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA which retains Hammond’s delightfully silky vocals and the flute intro of the original whilst also making use of the strings and choral presence. The rhythmically compelling I’M A TRAIN follows, also finds a new lease of life in orchestral form with its trumpet section.

Those who are familiar with Hammond’s work will find the choice of tracks a little predictable with many of the re-recordings showcasing hits that Hammond penned for other artists. The 1976 Leo Sayer hit WHEN I NEED YOU and the 1988 hit DON’T TURN AROUND have been re-scored with ensemble arrangements, the latter sounding almost unrecognisable from the version made famous by British Reggae band Aswad.

The album also features two Latin tracks – ALEJETE (the Spanish version of JUST WALK AWAY, Hammond’s hit song for Celine Dion) and the 1912 Mexican light classical tune ESTRELLITA – to reflect Hammond’s bilingual upbringing.

At 72 years old, Hammond is still capable of delivering a sterling vocal performance although, at times, his voice isn’t quite as powerful as it once was. The slower ballads such as WHEN I NEED YOU and TO ALL THE GIRLS I‘VE LOVED BEFORE are a joy to listen to with Hammond making a real emotional connection to his own material. But the rock track NOTHING‘S GONNA STOP US NOW and the soaring ballad ONE MOMENT IN TIME (originally made famous by Whitney Houston) are both missing any real power behind the vocals, making them feel more like a cover than a re-recording by the man behind the lyrics.

That said, on the whole, the album is incredibly easy to listen to and it’s nice to hear a different arrangement to the pop hits. Hammond also saves his best performance for last, with the autobiographical THE FREE ELECTRIC BAND given an extra lift by its double horn and string intro and the beautifully arranged THE AIR THAT I BREATHE, standing out as a highlight thanks to its stunning orchestral arrangements and booming chorus.

While some of the tracks on IN SYMPHONY don’t quite live up to the original, you certainly can’t fault Hammond’s talent as a songwriter. These are timeless classics and the album certainly succeeds in celebrating Hammond’s enduring legacy as a fine balladeer.

3.5 out of 5 stars

IN SYMPHONY by Albert Hammond is released on 9 June 2017.