The Michael Feinstein Sings the Hugh Martin Songbook

by: Michael Feinstein

Of the four veteran songwriters who have collaborated with Michael Feinstein on his series of songbooks of their work thus far (the others being Burton Lane, Jule Styne, and Jerry Herman), 81-year-old Hugh Martin is probably the least well known. Those who do recognize the name may associate it with another, Ralph Blane, since Martin and Blane were responsible, among other things, for a trio of famous songs in the 1944 movie musical Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland: "The Boy Next Door," the Oscar-nominated "The Trolley Song," and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," all of which are featured here. It's not clear why Blane was excluded from this album, but he may have been too ill to participate. (Suffering from Parkinson's disease, he died two months after the record's release.) In any case, Martin had an extensive songwriting career without his on-again, off-again partner, including the Broadway musicals Look, Ma, I'm Dancin'!, Make a Wish, and High Spirits. (Like John Lennon and Paul McCartney toward the end of their partnership, Martin and Blane didn't actually write together; they wrote separate songs, then got together to polish them and shared credit.) So, there was plenty of material for Feinstein to choose from, also including another Oscar nominee, Martin and Blane's "Pass the Peace Pipe" from the film adaptation of Good News. He seems not to have felt comfortable with another Martin and Blane hit, however, since there is no performance of "Buckle Down, Winsocki" from their musical Best Foot Forward. Martin obligingly provides gender-switched lyrics for what is now called "The Girl Next Door" and "The Trolley Song," and also pens some updated words referring to himself and Feinstein to lead things off with "The Two of Us" from Look, Ma, I'm Dancin'!, on which he duets as well as playing piano; he also sings on "I Like the Feeling" and "I Never Felt Better." As a pianist who once accompanied Garland at the Palace, he is fully up to expressing his music in support of Feinstein's vocals, occasionally slipping in interesting touches, such as a bit of atonality at the end of the bittersweet "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Just as he did with Lane, Styne, and Herman, Feinstein exhibits a warm and comfortable rapport with his songwriter/accompanist here, showing off Hugh Martin's body of work to best effect. ~ William Ruhlmann

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