“This is a sweetheart of a CD. Debra Wagoner is very happy romantic company in her album The Hopeful Romantic and the title gives you the idea that she likes to be in the company of love songs. The songstress has a warm, rich voice and presence. She's instantly likeable and unpretentious. Debra makes you comfortable, maybe because she sounds at ease with herself and the material. Opening her debut album with a bare-bones piano intro and a very thoughtfully phrased "Love Is Here To Stay," she caresses the Gershwins' melody and words. Once she accomplishes the goals of displaying her wares and letting us luxuriate in her honey voice and time-tested lyrics, unfurling them in conversational slow mo, she switches gears. Before more of this treatment could risk making herself or the listener complacent, the rhythm kicks in and she turns up the heat and the beat. Debra is a musical theater actress living in Virginia and performing around the country in lead roles. The album has a definite theatricality and naturally includes a few songs she did onstage. There's a lot of feeling coming through and it feels genuine, not showboating…
“… The best thing about this new album is that it introduces us to a singer who is rewarding to hear whether she's wrapping you up in warm, relaxed tones or belting a big finish. The clips you can hear on CD Baby by clicking on the cover above will let you sample less of the power and more of the pretty, but it's a pretty good start. Likewise, this album is a good start for a performer I'm glad to discover with you.”
- Rob Lester
“STYLE WEEKLY: Debra Wagoner “The Hopeful Romantic” (self-released)
A stand-out performer in dozens of local musicals, Richmond stage veteran Debra Wagoner knows how to fill every phrase of a song with meaning. Wagoner has a strong, supple voice memorable for its luxurious warmth and clarity. Her talent transfers splendidly from stage to studio on this debut CD, a collection of show tunes and standards with a stripped-down sound and innovative arrangements by pianist Ron Barnett.
Wagoner puts her own definitive stamp on such classics as “My Funny Valentine,” but really shines while traversing the emotional roller coasters of lesser-known numbers, like the lullaby for grown-ups, “Lay Down Your Head,” and the sultry, slow blues of “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe.” There is some filler here — “It Had to Be You” goes nowhere special — but this is more than made up for by the heart-stopping conclusions of songs like “Maybe This Time.” An evening with this “Hopeful Romantic” is time well-spent. (Available at www.cdbaby.com.)”
- Dave Timberline
“TOP TEN VOCAL CD'S OF 2005
When a little-known singer can stand up among the heavyweights with some of the same material, she must be good. Debra Wagoner is one such singer. She has a solid, rich voice that has an unaffected sweet quality. She's a musical theater performer who tours the country in lead roles, and her debut album, The Hopeful Romantic, is aptly titled: it sums up the attitude in the material she's chosen. Some of the numbers are covered in albums on this list: "My Funny Valentine" (on Rachel York's and one of the most recorded standards over the years). The Gershwins' "Love Is Here to Stay," and the Arlen/Harburg "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe" (both on Sandy Stewart's album) are here, plus more by the Gershwins ("The Man I Love") and Arlen ("Come Rain or Come Shine" and, yes, "Over the Rainbow."
Debra's sincerity shines through, and she also has a good sense of theater. A song from the musical Violet, "Lay Down Your Head," is throbbing and full of emotion (it's one of the shows she's been in). With fine accompaniment by a trio, the recording is well executed and a treat. This is one of the albums I've especially enjoyed discovering and spreading the word about this year. Our Under the Radar feature at the end of each column brings your attention to a singer (or show) that doesn't have a major label (or maybe no label at all) and may be released quietly. But there's a lot of talent out there and it's very rewarding to sift through and find the gems. Debra is one of them, and I hope we'll hear more from her.”
- Rob Lester