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Posted 08.03.09

New Release!

Columbia Recording Artist, singer and pianist Harry Connick Jr., just barely out of his thirties, has released 24 albums under his own name, which have sold 25 million copies around the world. Although he has recorded various genres of music, from traditional pop to instrumental jazz to funk and blues, he has shown a deep and abiding affection for The Great American Songbook (and his own songs written in that classic style). Connick’s newest Columbia album, Your Songs, to be released on Vinyl on August 25 and on CD September 22, both extends this tradition and compliments it. Like his best-selling Only You of 2004, Your Songs consists of Connick singing familiar songs with a full jazz big band and string orchestra, and, as with nearly all of Harry’s previous albums, he wrote each of the orchestrations himself. (He also recruited two of his lifelong friends from New Orleans, Branford and Wynton Marsalis, as well as bluegrass guitar virtuoso Bryan Sutton, for guest appearances). On most of his albums, Connick is a virtual one-man band. “My usual pattern is I either write the songs or pick the songs,” he says. “Depending on the configuration I arrange, orchestrate, conduct, sing, and then oversee the mixing and mastering. You might say that I’m very hands on.” However, what makes Your Songs different from all of Connick’s previous projects is that this album represents the first occasion in which he has teamed up with a record company producer, the legendary Clive Davis. For nearly 50 years, Davis has been one of the leading lights of the music industry and more recently was promoted to Chief Creative Officer (CCO) at Sony Music Entertainment after heading the BMG Label Group. Your Songs is a genuine collaborative effort in which Clive picked most of the songs, Harry arranged and orchestrated them, and then turned the reins in the studio over to his long time friend and producer, Tracey Freeman. “Clive expressed an interest in working with me,” he recalls, “but I didn’t know what that meant because I had never done a collaboration before”. Davis’ concept was to put together a program of classic songs that were both as familiar and as contemporary as possible. Both by accident and design, the selections are skewed towards signature songs for iconic performers: Elvis Presley’s “I Can't Help Falling In Love With You,” Nat King Cole’s “Mona Lisa,” Tony Bennett’s “Who Can I Turn To?,” Frank Sinatra’s “All The Way,” Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are” and nine others. “Songs that everybody knows,” was how Davis put it, rendered with what he describes as “accessible arrangements.” When Davis first approached him, Harry’s initial idea was to bring in a famous arranger but Davis suggested that Harry write the charts himself. Even so, the finished results would reflect the producer’s own strong pop sensibilities. The opener “All The Way” is more intimate and lighter than we’re used to hearing, with a beautiful tenor saxophone solo by Branford Marsalis. “And I Love Her” uses a hint of a bolero underpinning to make the Lennon-McCartney classic seem even more romantic than when sung by The Beatles. “The Way You Look Tonight” has been heard for most of the last 70 years as an uptempo swinger, but Harry brings it back to its original status as a slow and intimate love song. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” was originally written by Ewan MacColl in the style of an Olde English folk song, then it was reborn as a 70s pop hit, but Connick sings it as a classic Broadway style love song, very emotionally direct, with his heart right on his sleeve. Elton John’s “Your Song” is herewith given a finger-snapping beat. For Burt Bacharach’s “Close to You,” which features the brilliant New Orleans trumpeter Leroy Jones, Connick notes, “I went in the studio, and I just started playing, and I wound up giving it a whole different groove. I kept the tempo, and I had a guitar play the famous intro vamp, and overall we gave ‘Close To You’ more of a Gospel feeling.” Likewise, he added more of a jazz beat to Billy Joel’s all-time classic, “Just The Way You Are.” The immortal Mexican love song “Bésame Mucho” was done at the suggestion of Harry’s father. “Mona Lisa” is treated more like a dance number than is customarily heard, while “Smile,” which is usually done as a minor key lament, is also much more cheerful and upbeat. Harry starred in the acclaimed ABC TV film of South Pacific, but the show’s great love song, “Some Enchanted Evening,” was the property of another character; Harry makes up for that here by romping through a solid-four reading of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic. “Who Can I Turn To” is dedicated to the song’s composer, the late, great British singer-songwriter Anthony Newley. Don McLean’s “And I Love You So,” is unique in the annals of American pop in that it was a big number for both Perry Como and Elvis Presley; Connick sings it with a straightforward sincerity. Connick recruited Wynton Marsalis to play on “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” “I asked him to play the melody on an Elvis Presley tune. And he said, ‘I get it! No problem.’ But it wasn’t a waste of his time because he played it perfectly, in a way that a lesser musician couldn’t have done.” When Harry talks about the beauty of playing or singing a melody as simply and beautifully as possible, he’s getting to the essential truth of what makes this album special. To be able to take familiar songs and make something fresh out of them – without eviscerating the qualities that make them great to begin with – is truly a rare gift. And it’s a gift that Harry Connick, Jr. displays in abundance on Your Songs, making it one of the extraordinary efforts of his career.