Songs I Heard; 30
Vocalist Harry Connick Jr.’s talent for turning the Great American Songbook into maple syrup has served him well over the past decade or so, but it’s served his prodigious talent poorly. Give the singer-pianist a disconsolate ballad or some gritty Crescent City soul, and he’ll invariably smooth it out in his musical Cuisinart. What a relief, then, to find the New Orleans native summoning some heartfelt craftsmanship on a pair of vocal albums — Songs I Heard and 30 — that fizz with pink champagne effervescence.
The kiddie-pop concept behind Songs I Heard is nothing new — Miles Davis made Snow White safe for jazz when he recorded ”Someday My Prince Will Come” in 1961 — but Connick makes it an idea worth revisiting. The funky hunk’s cover of The Wizard of Oz’s ”Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” transforms the Munchkin song of celebration into a frisky, turbocharged big-band workout, while Mary Poppins’ do-gooder anthems ”Spoonful of Sugar” and ”Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” are effectively harnessed to Connick’s beloved second-line rhythms.
If Songs is rooted in Connick’s adolescent musical awakening, then 30 is his tribute to his high school record collection. Accompanied only by his dexterous piano playing, Connick runs through a disparate clutch of cover songs — Fats Domino’s ”I’m Walkin’,” the Godfather theme ”Speak Softly Love” — whose lone connective tissue is Connick’s obvious affection for them. By resisting the urge to camp up the corn pone and drown the love songs in a sea of overarranged pathos, Connick has produced a pair of stellar showcases for his supple interpretive powers. Songs: B+ 30: A-