Undeniably an impressive celebration of a great American lyricist.
Adrian Edwards 2009
The Dream’s On Me celebrates the lyrics of Johnny Mercer (1909-1976). He wrote the words to some of the most famous songs of the 20th century and also, on occasion, wrote the music too.
Notable amongst these works is Something’s Gotta Give, included here in a previously unreleased version by Bing Crosby with the Buddy Cole Trio. Bing is cast spot-on as the middle-aged man caught up in a romantic liaison with a much younger woman (film buffs will recall Fred Astaire, in a similar situation, courting the much younger Leslie Caron in Daddy Long Legs). Bing points the rhythm of his lines splendidly, a trait often ignored in performance.
But not all the casting works so well. The 13-year-old Morgan Eastwood, daughter of Clint Eastwood (executive producer on an accompanying documentary on Mercer), is out of her depth on This Time the Dream’s On Me. This is one of several new recordings made for this album. Highlights include a droll account of That Old Black Magic from Jamie Cullum, a joyful Spring, Spring, Spring from Jalala and Michael Feinstein’s haunting take on Laura.
Daryl Sherman, the epitome of a nightclub chanteuse, evokes memories of Blossom Dearie in I Thought about You and Maude Maggart, in the same style, sings a plaintive Skylark with Cullum on piano. Broadway soprano Audra McDonald, with John Williams on keyboard, sings her heart out as a woman crossed in love in the poignant quasi-operatic I Had Myself a Truelove from Mercer and Harold Arlen’s 1946 Broadway show St Louis Woman.
Of the older recordings, Mercer relishes every moment of Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive, Ella Fitzgerald sings a sublime Midnight Sun and Bennett and Bono sing as one in I Wanna Be Around. There’s a rare outing from Chet Baker singing I’m Old Fashioned and Bobby Darin and Mercer duet on Two of a Kind. On the debit side, Barbra Streisand sounds tired, understandably so given that her My Shining Hour was the final song from a live two-hour concert and, on the longest track Ray Charles overheats Blues in the Night.
The producers have taken great care to offer a well-balanced and contrasted selection of Mercer lyrics. But just one CD could never be representative of all his work. There’s nothing here, for instance, from his partnership with Henry Mancini. But this is undeniably an impressive celebration of a great American lyricist.