The M.G.M. Album

by: Michael Feinstein

Interpretive singers, particularly contemporary nightclub entertainers, tend to design one-hour sets (later recycled as albums) around particular concepts or themes, and as the years go by, coming up with new ones can be challenging. So says Michael Feinstein in his annotations to his sixth LP, The M.G.M. Album. The concept he's come up with this time is embodied in the title, but even that is a little broad -- songs used in M-G-M movies. So, he narrowed it, eliminating songs not specifically written for those movies (such as Broadway show tunes used in a movie adaptation) and songs written by songwriters better known for their work in New York than in Hollywood, meaning no Jerome Kern or Rodgers & Hart. He was still left with quite a list, songs by the likes of Sammy Cahn, Sammy Fain, Johnny Mercer, and Harry Warren, among others. (Also included are works by Harold Arlen, Howard Dietz, E.Y. Harburg, Arthur Schwartz, and Jule Styne, all of whom, one might argue, are really more Broadway guys than movie guys.) The choices range from the well known ("That's Entertainment!," "Time After Time," "Singin' in the Rain") to the more obscure, and typically Feinstein finds ways to make even the more familiar material different, especially by using the introductory verses that sometimes turned up only in the sheet music for the songs, not up on the screen. (He also induced Cahn to come up with a whole new lyric to "Wonder Why.") The best example of a song full of passages most people won't have heard is the lengthy rendition of "If I Only Had a Brain" from The Wizard of Oz, which has explanatory sections for the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion before they get around to wishing they had a brain, a heart, and courage. None of these extra words were heard in the movie, and no one seems to have sung them since, until now. Feinstein employs arranger/conductor Ian Bernard, who uses good-sized orchestras that suggest what came off of the Hollywood soundstages. As usual, Feinstein sings in his earnest tenor, which has gained range and expression as an instrument over his recording career, and he savors the words with a scholar's affection. He serves the material, sometimes reverently, although it is still true that the least impressive thing about a Michael Feinstein album tends to be Michael Feinstein himself. ~ William Ruhlmann

Please enable Javascript to view this page competely.