The smash-hit musical TV series "Glee" releases its fifth musical compilation, "Journey to Regionals", which is the second of the five albums to focus solely on the music of a single episode (the previous being volume three, all from "The Power of Madonna"). And indeed, if any single episode of the series were to deserve that honour, I don't think any would merit it more than the first season finale, "Journey", which sends the Glee cast to their Regional championship and features a set of six excellent numbers.
New Directions delivers a full set of three new numbers here, all by the classic rock band Journey (hence, the episode title; they're subtle, these writers). The collection opens with a rendition of "Faithfully" (originally from the 1983 album "Frontiers"), with series stars Lea Michele (Rachel) and Cory Monteith (Finn) singing the duet (everybody else on backing, which really isn't the sort of thing you'd sing in a show choir competition, but whatever, that's not important here). Michele is the powerhouse of the series; Monteith started out rather weak, but he's grown by leaps and bounds over the last year, and he acquits himself well. The two just have chemistry, and it comes through in their song (if you're invested in Finn and Rachel as a couple, that helps too).
Next up, a mash-up of "Any Way You Want It" (1980's album "Departure") and "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" (1979's "Evolution") performed by the whole group, again with Finn and Rachel singing the lead. "Glee" has always done group mash-ups well (the gold standard being "Halo"/"Walking On Sunshine", in my opinion), and this one continues that trend. It's the most purely fun number in the collection, and one of the best the show has done on that score as well.
New Directions closes out its bid for the title with a new version of "Don't Stop Believin'" (1981's "Escape"). This is a bit of a risky move for the series in some ways; they covered it already in the pilot, and it's probably the show's defining song. Here, instead of Michele and Monteith dueting again, the producers mix in several other singers from the group (only Jenna Ushkowitz (Tina) and Dianna Agron (Quinn) are omitted). The results are frankly terrific. I don't know which version of the song I like more as yet, but they're both great; especially great is Naya Rivera (Santana), who has rapidly become one of my favourite voices on the show.
Then there is the big showstopper by New Directions' main competition, Vocal Adrenaline, who deliver an excellent cover of Queen's classic "Bohemian Rhapsody" (1975's "A Night at the Opera"). Now, this will never be anything other than a Queen song, with talent like Freddie Mercury involved, but Broadway star Jonathan Groff gives it his best go, and it's a very admirable one at that. The non-competition numbers that follow are quieter: a rendition of "To Sir, With Love" (from the 1967 film of the same name, and most famously recorded by Lulu) featuring most of the group's female vocalists and Chris Colfer (Kurt) (again omitting Agron) is nicely handled. Then Matthew Morrison (Mr. Schuester) and Mark Salling (Puck) deliver a charming rendition of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" (based on the 1993 ukulele version by Hawaiian artist Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, not the 1939 Judy Garland one) to send us off until next season.
All in all, it's a very strong collection of songs, and if you're a fan of "Glee"'s music, this is the album to buy.