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Friday, September 30, 2016

The Silver Lining

In reading the liner notes for The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern, I learned that Tony Bennett himself coined the term "American Songbook," and he has been keeping it alive for over sixty years. This album is one of a series, each devoted to a great songwriter, and it won the Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal, shared with Bennett and pianist Bill Charlap.

When it comes to American male singers, I've always been a Sinatra guy. I've puzzled over Bennett. His voice is hoarse, but also smooth. Raspy, but clear. At times he seems like he's going to lose the note, but he never does. Listening to him is like watching an adventure movie where you know the hero won't be hurt, but you can never be sure.

Where Bennett excels is in the emotion he brings to the song--he's essentially an actor. One of my favorite songs of all time is "The Way You Look Tonight," presented here unlike any version I know (my favorite is Sinatra's) but touching. Usually it's sung in a way to suggest that all is good in the world, but Bennett brings a bit of wistfulness to it, as if there has been a break-up or argument. No one can wrap their mouth around the word "Lovely" like Bennett.

Kern is best known for being the composer for Showboat, which is considered the first American musical. Bennett does not try "Ol' Man River"--I heard Sinatra try it and it didn't go well, but he is glorious on the others. Kern is described in the liner notes as being the bridge between "Brahms and Charlie Parker," and wrote a lot for movie musicals, notably for Fred Astaire, represented here with "Pick Yourself Up" and "I Won't Dance."

Also on the album are "The Last Time I Saw Paris," which won an Oscar for Best Song, and was a very sentimental song at the time, considering the Nazis had taken the city over. We also get the lovely "I'm Old-Fashioned," which was also sung by Astaire (and many others), I should note that in Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters, there is a scene when friends Dianne Wiest and Carrie Fisher audition for a role. Wiest sings "I'm Old-Fashioned" and Fisher follows with "The Way You Look Tonight."

It should also be noted that Kern worked with great lyricists. This album is represented by Ira Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein, Johnny Mercer, and Dorothy Fields:

"Some day, when I'm awfully low
When the world is cold
I will feel a glow just thinking of you
And the way you look tonight

Yes, you're lovely, with your smile so warm
And your cheeks so soft
There is nothing for me but to love you
And the way you look tonight

With each word your tenderness grows
Tearin' my fear apart
And that laugh..wrinkles your nose
Touches my foolish heart

Lovely ... Never, never change
Keep that breathless charm
Won't you please arrange it?
 'Cause I love you
Just the way you look tonight"

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