The Best of the Definitive American Songbook, Vol. 2: I-Z

The Best of the Definitive American Songbook, Vol. 2: I-Z sets out to compile great performances of songs written in the 1920s through the 1950s by American songwriters both legendary (like Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael, George and Ira Gershwin, Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington, and Harold Arlen) and obscure (like Jack Lawrence, Walter Gross, Harry Link, Jack Strachey, and Holt Marvell). The "I-Z" refers to the titles of the songs; the disc travels from "It Had to Be You" (written by Gus Kahn and Isham Jones and sung by Kay Starr) to "Where or When" (written by Rodgers & Hart and sung by Dick Haymes). In between are performances by such titans as Dean Martin (Lerner & Loewe's "On the Street Where You Live"), Peggy Lee (Cole Porter's "Just One of Those Things"), and Ella Fitzgerald (Billy Rose, E.Y. Harburg, and Harold Arlen's "It's Only a Paper Moon"). There are also some definitive performances, like Chet Baker's breathtaking take on Rodgers & Hart's "My Funny Valentine," Louis Prima and Keely Smith's knockout version of Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen's "That Old Black Magic," and Lena Horne's version of Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler's "Stormy Weather." The collection is a top-notch blend of wonderful songs and sterling vocal talent; the only missteps are the inclusion of two songs recorded in the 1980s: Rosemary Clooney's bland-sounding take on Jack Lawrence and Walter Gross' "Tenderly" from 1980 and Linda Ronstadt's pallid version of the Gershwins' "Someone to Watch Over Me." There are eight more volumes of the series set to be released; if they are all as good as the first two you should start clearing shelf space now. ~ Tim Sendra

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