Phillip Officer's Many a New Day: The Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II is one of the most frequently listened-to albums in my entire collection. And I can already tell you that Officer's latest recording, Hoagy on My Mind, will be finding its way to my CD player just as often.
As he has demonstrated in countless live performances in cabarets, concert halls, and other venues, Officer possesses a singing voice with universal appeal. His sound is marvelously smooth and somewhat breathy, but not in a fragile way--at once sweet and sexy, calming and stimulating. Come to think of it, an Officer disc is the perfect bedtime companion, whether you're in bed to sleep or to engage in some form of romantic activity.
Available on the Jerome Records label, Hoagy on My Mind celebrates the music of a composer who is unquestionably one of the greats in American history, if not quite a household name on the level of Gershwin or Berlin. In collaboration with the top lyricists of his era, Hoagland Howard Carmichael (a.k.a "Hoagy") wrote several songs that quickly became standards. The Officer CD presents a healthy sample of these, beginning with what is arguably Carmichael's masterpiece: "Stardust" (1928), a gorgeous song with a verse so divine in its own right that Frank Sinatra recorded that verse by itself for one of his albums. (Mitchell Parrish crafted the wonderful lyrics). Among the other all-time faves served up here are "Lazy River," "Heart and Soul" (yes, he wrote that!), "How Little We Know," and a ballad that ranks as one of the most ravishing love songs ever penned: "Skylark" (1941), with its hauntingly meandering Carmichael melody and its genuinely poetic Johnny Mercer lyrics.
Officer's voice is ideal for this kind of repertoire, and the success of the CD is further ensured by the fact that it boasts terrific, uncredited arrangements played by top-flight musicians Johnny Frigo (violin), Joe Vito (piano and accordion), and Jim Cox (bass). This instrumental complement is rather unusual, but the resultant sound only serves to make the album unique in the best possible sense. Indeed, aspiring arrangers--not to mention established arrangers!--should study this disc to see how even a very small, unconventional grouping of musicians can provide a piquant, flattering background for a great vocalist.
A few reservations: Frank Loesser's lyrics for "Two Sleepy People" (1938) are so silly that the album probably wouldn't have suffered from the song's exclusion. Also, the transition in track #3 between "Blue Orchids" in 4/4 time and "The Nearness of You" in 6/8 time is a bit jarring. But these are mere quibbles about a CD that is guaranteed to please even the most discriminating Hoagy Carmichael fan.
[For more information, visit www.jeromerecords.com]