Review of Will Barratt’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner

Any musical theatre performer who puts an album out there is taking a leap of faith, but the ones who really go out on a limb are those who bypass the safer route of releasing a cover album in favour of using their own original material. West End star Will Barratt has done just that with his début solo album, Confessions of a Justified Sinner, which features a collection of songs written by him over the last fifteen years.

Barratt has built a successful stage career upon a solid foundation that includes his acting training at Eton College alongside the likes of Eddie Redmayne and Harry Lloyd, and his post-graduate degree in Musical Theatre from The Royal Academy of Music. Since his first professional role as The Lead Tenor in The Producers at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, he has firmly established himself in the world of musical theatre through his performances in such shows as Les Miserables, Jesus Christ Superstar, Carousel, Chu Chin Chow and Sweeney Todd, and has also played the leading roles of Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera (Her Majesty’s Theatre) and Bob Crewe in Jersey Boys (Prince Edward Theatre. The stage isn’t the only place he shines though; he is also a talented singer/songwriter, as evidenced by his début album.

Confessions of a Justified Sinner is a 14-track collection of original songs all penned by Barratt. I had a listen to the album ahead of its August release and was highly impressed by this first musical offering, which far from being a bog-standard musical theatre CD, is a wonderfully diverse, quirky and clever album of songs. He cited such artists as Tracey Chapman, Billy Joel, Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Ed Sheeran and Simon & Garfunkel as his musical influences for this album, and they can all be heard on there, although musical theatre fans needn’t worry as there is still a strong musical theatre vein running through his writing. Songs like ‘Take My Hand’, ‘Fearless’, ‘Winter Lullaby’ and ‘Closing Time’ are pure MT with a story-telling style that makes for pleasant listening, especially as they provide a perfect platform for Barratt’s voice.

It’s possible to have too much of a good thing sometimes though, and some albums have suffered by overindulging in these stagey ballads to the point where all the tracks start to sound the same. Not this album though. There are plenty of other songs on there which are strategically placed to help break up the track listing and avoid it becoming too musical theatre-heavy, songs like ‘Demon’ and the toe-tapping, head-bopping little ditty ‘Never Thought’, for example, as well as the opening number, ‘Give Me Some Time’, which is a hard-hitting sit-up-and-take-notice start to the album.

As always, there are some stand-out songs on there, including the gorgeous ‘Beneath’. A notable contribution is ‘That’s How It Goes’, co-written and performed with fellow West End star Nadim Naaman and which also features on his 2014 album, We All Want The Same. The two have paired up before to write, and this is another fantastic collaboration between them that additionally benefits from being performed by two such high-quality vocalists. Barratt also invites Rebecca Trehearn to record a track and presents her with a gift of a song titled ‘Surrender’, a sumptuously emotive ballad that she in turn gifts with her equally sumptuous voice. Trehearn’s hauntingly beautiful performance reflects the deep depths of this song and the result is just breathtaking, a true highlight of the album.

She re-appears later for a duet with Barratt in what has to be the no. 1 stand-out song of the album: ‘Tatiana’. Described by Barratt as a ‘Moulin Rouge-esque Tango track’, this rich and darkly passionate number is far and away the best song on there and will have listeners reaching for the repeat button, because one play of this track just won’t be enough.

The last track is ‘Tomorrow’s Song’, an endearingly upbeat and catchy song that will ensure listeners will have a smile on their face at the end of the album.

The album is officially released on the Auburn Jam Music label on 10th August 2015, but Barratt is staging an album launch gig at The Hippodrome Casino in London’s West End on Sunday 9th August 2015, where he’ll be performing songs from the album as well as others that have shaped his career and influenced his writing over the years. He’ll be joined on stage by a line-up of special guest artists that includes album vocalists Nadim Naaman and Rebecca Trehearn, in addition to fellow West End stars Ryan Molloy and Michael Conway, the latter of which performs regularly with Barratt as part of the the 4-piece male harmony group The 4Tunes. They sing their own arrangements of songs from classic to modern hits and travel all over the world to perform, including regular concerts at the Hippodrome.

The cast will be joined on stage at the album launch by a live band, led by maestro Joe Davison who is also the album’s producer and founder of Auburn Jam Music.

Barratt has also launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the filming of a music video for the album track ‘Tatiana’, featuring Latin and ballroom dancers from Karen Hardy’s studios. Aiming to reach the £4,000 target by 6th August 2015, he is offering a variety of incentives to pledge, ranging from a signed album, tickets to the launch gig and a personal item featured on the album cover, to vocal masterclasses, an appearance in the music video and a private gig at an event of choice.

Speaking about the album, Barratt said, “This album has taken quite some time to come into being. I began writing at college about 15 years ago, and there are a couple of tracks from all the way back then. Since then, I have written more and I’ve been wanting to record them properly for years. I’ve had an amazing time performing in shows in London and the UK, and more recently all over the world gigging with The 4Tunes, but I felt now was the perfect time to create something myself, and have faith in my writing.”

What he has created is an album that sets itself apart from those of other musical theatre performers and fully displays his skill as a sophisticated and very talented songwriter, as well an outstanding singer. Barratt has a great range to his voice and uses it to great effect on the album, although I would’ve liked to hear a few more of those ‘big belt’ numbers that he does so well. Each song puts the focus on the vocal performance though and the strength of his voice shines through in every one. Confessions of a Justified Sinner is a perfect introduction to Will Barratt as a songwriter and makes a lasting impression that will leave listeners wanting more.

Confessions of a Justified Sinner is released on 10th August 2015 and will be available for download via all major online retailers. A physical copy of the album can be pre-ordered from the Kickstarter page, as can tickets to the album launch and other pledge incentives.

By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25

Tuesday 21st July 2015