I’ve always admired Anthony Callea’s voice but I didn’t become a fan until he released his album Ladies and Gentlemen: The Songs of George Michael a few years ago. I loved George’s originals, but I found myself hearing the songs in a new way with Anthony’s release. So I was excited to see him tackling covers again on his latest album Backbone.

It’d be unfair to call this simply an album of covers though. Perhaps the term concept album would be more accurate. This collection is all about getting to the essence of each song, stripping away the bells and whistles of production and discovering its bare bones.

The approach brings out the beauty and depth in songs that once seemed like throwaway fluff, like Britney Spears’ “Sometimes” and Bananarama’s “Love in the First Degree.” The overproduction is gone, replaced for the most part with piano, Anthony’s voice, some backing vocals to support it, and those lyrics that are better than we all remembered them.

This album isn’t just about guilty pleasures, although they’re well represented. Other songs like “Man in the Mirror” and “We Belong” were already strong on their release. However, his versions do magnify the impact of the lyrics which sees them strike a little closer to the heart. Queen set the bar very high with another true classic, “Somebody to Love,” but the acapella version included here is one of the Backbone’s highlights. Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” is another standout. The subtle sax line in is a delicious throwback to the original, although the stripped back delivery makes it brand new.

The only original song, the title track “Backbone,” is beautiful and honest. However, it seems a little out of place on this concept album, not because it’s not a cover but because it has a fuller sound that doesn’t quite gel with the other more organically treated tracks. Just a fraction more restraint would have made all the difference.

One slight mistep doesn’t make Backbone any less enjoyable though. For pop music lovers like me, it’s a real gem that breathes new life into so many songs that have a special place in my heart. With a focus on lyrics and feeling, in many cases Anthony has improved on the originals. When we’re talking about songs so beloved, that’s no small feat.

Backbone hits stores on September 16. Anthony will support its release with the following shows.

23 September 2016 – Revesby Workers Club, Revesby
24 September 2016 – The Cube, Campbelltown
30 September 2016 – The Palms at Crown, Melbourne