BRIAN MAY AND KERRY ELLIS – THE CANDLELIGHT CONCERTS LIVE AT MONTREUX (POP/ROCK): In its way, this might be more interesting than the Queen Redux shows with Adam Lambert. When May and Ellis take on the Freddie Mercury era during this concert, there is a genuine sense of discovery — both in the sense that Ellis brings so much joy to the lyric, but also in the way that May is challenged to expand on his old riffs in this new setting. Then, May and Ellis go one better but filling in the rest of the setlist with a collection of songs from across an impressively broad spectrum.
— Nick DeRiso
Don’t be fooled by the inclusion of several Queen songs. The Candelight Concerts: Live at Montreux isn’t another reiteration of the band’s legend from Brian May. Instead, the addition of singer Kerry Ellis takes those songs — as well as a well-judged collection of offbeat companion pieces — in entirely new directions.
They open, for instance, with a keening version of “I (Who Have Nothing), the Leiber and Stoller-penned hit for Ben E. King and later Tom Jones, providing an early hint at the sweep of the concert to follow. Ultimately, The Candelight Concerts: Live at Montreux plays to both performer’s strengths (Ellis, the star of so many West End musicals; and Brian May, guitar hero for Queen) without ever overstating things. This is, in its way, the opposite the huge Adam Lambert-fronted extravangzas taking place this summer. It’s more like stopping by May’s house for a little post-dinner music making.
In keeping, The Candelight Concerts: Live at Montreux, due April 1 via Eagle Rock, explores not just Queen, but also Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” and the Beatles’ “Something” — both of which are imbued with a sense of trembling rumination in this quiet setting. Elsewhere, May and Ellis proclaim their shared concern for animal welfare on “Born Free,” offer a movingly confidential take on “The Way We Were,” then get almost impossibly cute for their original “Kissing Me Song.” The results are neither arena show nor dinner theater, but some canny combination of both.
Which brings us, inevitably, to the Queen songs. Some are intriguingly lesser known, like the John Lennon tribute “Life is Real” from 1982′s Hot Space, May’s sci-fi skiffle “’39″ from 1975′s A Night at the Opera, or the Freddie Mercury tribute recorded by Queen’s remaining members, “No-One But You” from 1997′s Queen Rocks. Others, including “We Will Rock You” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” are considerably more familiar, to the point of being almost shopworn, but an expectant audience at Montreux gives them new life, too.
In fact, all of the Queen stuff holds up surprisingly well, and not just because Mercury always brought a robust theatricality to the originals that fits Ellis’ resume. She imbues the lyrics with an unselfconscious joy, while May does a credible job on the mic for “Somebody to Love” and “Love of My Life.” Perhaps more expectedly, another highlight arrives when May makes a molten run through the instrumental “Last Horizon” from his own 1993 release Back to the Light.
The Candelight Concerts: Live at Montreux will be available in several different formats — CD and DVD, Blu-ray and CD and digital. Bonus features include the conservation-themed “Nothing Has Really Changed,” with Virginia McKenna, as well as audio versions of “I Loved a Butterfly,” “I’m Not That Girl,” “I Can’t be Your Friend” and “In the Bleak Midwinter” — none of which have been released elsewhere.