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Posted 10.27.09

'Your Songs' Review 01 November 2009 by Alex Rawls I assume that the title—Your Songs—is a reference to standards, songs that belong to all of us. On his new album, Harry Connick, Jr. visits the classic songbook, reaching as far forward as the 1970s for tunes by Billy Joel, Roberta Flack and Elton John, often constructed with hints of bossa nova and Tijuana horns. Add songs by the Beatles, Elvis and Burt Bacharach and you have an album that could be easily mistaken for a SinatraMartinDavisEtCetera album from the mid-’70s recorded to prove the singer’s relevance in the rock ’n’ roll era. That anachronistic element aside, Your Songs is impressive. Connick has become a singer whose voice does more than an echo days gone by with a slight southern drawl. Time and again, he plays with the melody in subtle, smart ways, freshening lines and giving familiar phrases new sparkle. If I’m ever going to listen to “Just the Way You Are” on purpose, it’s going to be Connick’s version, which he sings with tenderness, good humor and with the awareness that it’s a lounge song—three characteristics that eluded Billy Joel the first time around. For me, Connick’s arrangements are the star of any album he makes. Here, he works with horns and strings and walks a fine line, evoking the tradition he comes from—almost quoting it at times—but the arrangements are never retro or stock. The strings on “The Way You Look Tonight” animate the opening with busy little flourishes that draw attention to their presence before they settle into the background, laying down a textural bed for the happy-go-lucky horns. He knows how to leave room for his voice, and he knows when to add elements to enliven a moment. Not surprisingly, Your Songs doesn’t provide much of a showcase for his piano. It takes over on Elton John’s “Your Song,” though, which Connick remakes in a gentle barrelhouse mode. It grounds the sentiment in an emotional context—the bar, late at night—and replaces Elton John’s too-sincere piano with offhandedly deft, Bookeresque fills and runs that give the track dimension. He creates the sense of someone thinking aloud at the keyboard—the song’s central conceit—but Connick makes it credible, witty and endearing. It’s tempting to wonder if those charms are enough to interest listeners in an album of standards, but it’s likely that Connick’s core audience will be thrilled by the standards, making the question moot. A better final thought is the realization is that Connick is investing more than his voice and charm in his vocal music; there are solid musical reasons to pay attention as well. Permalink