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This time last year, I had never heard of Ramin Karimloo. Since them, I've seen him on stage four times. He's become one of my favourite singers, and I bought his debut album (released by Sony, produced by Tom Nichols) straight away when it was released on the 9th of April this year. In fact, I bought it from QVC simply so I could get the signed edition!
I don't think Ramin's name is very well known generally, but those of you who are fans of musical theatre may recognise it. That's how I first came across him: last August, I went to see the Phantom sequel, Love Never Dies. I hadn't bothered to look up the cast members - I was going to see the show, not individual performers. But when the curtain went up and Ramin, as the Phantom, began to sing his first song, 'Til I Hear You Sing, I was completely blown away. I saw him again as the Phantom at the 25th anniversary performance of The Phantom of the Opera (he had previously played the role in the West End, the youngest ever performer to do so) at the Royal Albert Hall (to which I was lucky enough to get tickets for me and my auntie) and again in January this year in Les Miserables, when he played Jean Valjean. As an actor, he is excellent, and gave fantastic performances as both the Phantom and Jean Valjean; as a singer, he is phenomenal and I could listen to him for hours.
Ramin has actually been around in musicals for several years. Born in Iran but brought up in Canada, he moved to England over a decade ago to pursue his stage and singing career. He has appeared in touring productions of Miss Saigon and Sunset Boulevard, and played Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera before graduating to the title role; he also had a cameo role in the film as Gustave Daaé, Christine's father. He has had several roles in Les Miserables, and played Enjolras at the 25th anniversary concert at the O2. With his debut album, however, he wanted to move away from the stereotype of a West End leading man releasing an album of musical numbers - only two of the 12 tracks are showtune covers. Ramin said: "I have a huge love for country and bluegrass, I love rock 'n' roll and I love what I'm doing, so it was how to balance all that". He went on to say, "I didn't want to be just a theatre star putting out an album. It was only when they started talking about writing and bringing in other writers that I got interested. I wanted to have lived the songs. I wanted an album that was like a diary." (RealMusic Blog)
1. Show Me Light
2. Coming Home
3. Music of the Night
4. Broken Home
5. Guiding Light
6. Song of the Human Heart
7. Constant Angel
8. 'Til I Hear You Sing
9. Eyes of a Child
10. Inside My World
11. Everything I Do (I Do It for You)
The album itself is a mix of original songs and covers. When I first got the CD, I was most excited about Music of the Night (from The Phantom of the Opera) and 'Til I Hear You Sing (from Love Never Dies) as these were the two tracks I had heard Ramin sing on stage. At first, I was surprised as the songs sounded different to the stage versions. The arrangements are softer and the tempo a little different. Music of the Night is backed by piano, guitar and soft strings rather than the full band I am used to, while 'Til I Hear You Sing has a gentle beat and a lighter backing of piano and strings. I do love the epic band versions lifted straight from the stage shows, but I already own both of those (on the Phantom 25th anniversary soundtrack and the Love Never Dies soundtrack) and these new arrangements allow Ramin's voice to dominate. He has an absolutely stunning voice, strong and powerful like a West End leading man's should be, but with a rock edge to it. When he sings as the Phantom, you can really feel his pain and anguish. He sounds like Gerard Butler SHOULD have sounded in the Phantom film, if he'd been a better singer (in fact, I think Ramin should have played the lead role, instead of being relegated to a cameo!). I am slightly disappointed that the track Bring Him Home from Les Miserables isn't included on the album - maybe the next one!
To balance these covers, a couple of mainstream covers are also included on the CD. One is a cover of Bryan Adams' Everything I Do (I Do It For You). Ramin has a very different voice to Bryan's, but he sings the song very well. The track itself sounds like a modernised version of the original, with Ramin's vocals allowed to shine through. The other cover is of a Muse track, Guiding Light, from the band's The Resistance album. I was really excited about this, as Muse are one of my favourite bands, and I was intrigued to see what Ramin would make of it. The song is one of Muse's more subdued songs and sounds a bit more poppy here. Again, Ramin's vocals are very different from Matt Bellamy's but his voice still sounds brilliant, expressive yet powerful. In keeping with the mood of the original song, it has a strong guitar presence but sounds different because of the addition of strings.
The other songs on the album are original tracks. Ramin moves away from his musical roots in these songs, which I think was a brave decision - an album of musical covers would have been much easier to sell, but I think what he has done here is more interesting. First single Coming Home is an uplifting piano ballad. In the hands of another artist it might sound run of the mill, but once again his stunning vocals lift it into an amazing track. Song of the Human Heart is another piano ballad, it's not one of my favourites but it's a pleasant enough track. Constant Angel, however is one of my favourites, with its swooping strings and heartening lyrics ("Don't lose your faith/Don't turn away/Everything that makes you who you are will not turn you away"). Album closing track Cathedrals was an immediate favourite of mine, owing to its memorable melody and distinctive theme. It seems to be about travelling the world in order to find your home, which is something I imagine resonates with Ramin, living in the UK but previously born in Iran and raised in Canada.
The other songs on the album were written or co-written by Ramin himself. With some artists or groups, there is a marked drop in quality with the songs they have written themselves, but that is certainly not the case here. These songs are mainly guitar-based, as opposed to the other tracks which are mostly piano-based, though classical-influenced strings run right through the album. Opening track Show Me Light is an album highlight for me, with its uplifting chorus. Ramin's self-penned tracks do tend to show off his amazing vocals to a greater extent: they are generally more dramatic, and this is especially true on the uptempo and heartfelt Broken Home. On Eyes of a Child, Ramin sings about seeing the world through a child's eyes and wanting to go back to those days of innocence. This seems quite a personal song and I wonder if it was inspired by his own two little boys (one of whom sat on stage with him during one of the songs at his London concert, and even sang a bit of Hallelujah with him - adorable!). Inside My World also sounds quite personal: Ramin seems to be singing about his journey through life so far ("I came here/with one suitcase and no idea") and it is probably the rockiest-sounding track on the album.
I absolutely love this album. Ramin has shunned the typical West End star's album and made a CD which is different and deeply personal. Though I was originally looking forward to the musical covers, I've grown to love the other songs on the album as well. To be honest though, this man has such a wonderful voice that he could sing nursery rhymes and I'd still buy the CD!
Ramin is a very versatile performer. He is currently on a UK tour to promote his album and has said that he wants to explore different musical styles. I went to see him at the Royal Festival Hall in London a couple of weeks ago and loved his show. He sang all the tracks from the album (except for Everything I Do) and plenty of others including Hallelujah, a hymn, some other showtunes, a few blues and country tracks I didn't recognise, Bring Him Home from Les Miserables, and even a Green Day track to close. He also sang with a number of guests including a member of Il Divo and someone from McFly! He seemed like a lovely person and had a great rapport with the audience. He also sounded absolutely amazing - no CD can ever capture just how spine-tingling his voice sounds when he is singing live, and I really hope I get the chance to see him again in the future.
If you are intrigued by what you've read and would like to find out more about Ramin and his music, the following links may help:
The official video for Coming Home: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hy84Q0VKVas
Ramin singing 'Til I Hear You Sing from Love Never Dies at the 2011 Olivier Awards: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O64jeq0mpdU
Ramin and his son singing at the Royal Albert Hall (I was there and this moment was adorable): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JK0h_6oRlwk
Ramin singing Bring Him Home from Les Miserables, at his 9 May concert in Nottingham: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5r0-74Wx56s