January 14, 2008

CD Review: Olivia Newton-John - Olivia's Live Hits

Natural charisma is a hard thing to resist, especially when it accompanies a voice as lovely as that of Olivia Newton-John. Backed by the Sydney Symphony at the majestic Sydney Opera House, the Australian songstress sounds in superb form on a new concert compilation, Olivia’s Live Hits.

The most redeeming quality of this album isn’t so much that Newton-John sounds exquisite (although she does) or that the songs achieve a certain splendor by virtue of being performed by a symphony (yet they do). Rather, it’s the sincerity with which Newton-John imparts these familiar songs, all the while enlivening them with fresh enthusiasm.

She delivers a striking rendition of “Physical,” its once-peppy melody now rearranged all sultry and slow. She offers breathtaking versions of “Hopelessly Devoted To You” and “I Honestly Love You,” two songs that benefit especially well from the musical minutiae afforded by a symphony. And, as if summoning her role as Sandy in Grease, she sings “You’re The One That I Want” with the same coyness and moxie that made John Travolta’s character take notice once and for all.

Three tracks from Xanadu offer some of the most spirited performances on this collection. Ms. Newton-John breathes fresh life into the buoyant title song as well as “Magic” and the stirring duet, “Suddenly,” which features a qualified backup singer assuming Cliff Richard’s original vocal.

The only discernible flaw of this album is its brevity. Clocking in at less than 38 minutes, it should have been expanded to comprise more songs, if not the complete concert (as does the corresponding DVD of this event, which boasts twenty-seven tracks). That being said, Olivia’s Live Hits certainly doesn’t lack for quality. There’s nothing disingenuous or obligatory in Olivia Newton-John’s performance. Her talent, positive energy, and ageless charm shine through luminously, all of which make for a delightful, albeit condensed, live album.