The Genius of Lionel Bart (Sepia Records) Bart may be best known for writing the eternally popular Oliver!, but in his time, he was responsible for more than a few other hits. This grand three-disc set introduces today's listeners to the boundless pleasures of his work, culling together tunes from his biggest hit as well as his other shows (including the rollicking cockney tuner Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be) and some of his standalone tunes. Perhaps most impressive in the set's curatorial expertise is the inclusion of demos performed by Bart himself, and some swell covers of his most famous songs.
Seventeen (Masterworks Broadway/ArkivMusic) This 1951 show based on a coming-of-age tale from Booth Tarkington was sepia-toned even when it debuted, which may make its quaint, homespun charms feel even more old-fashioned for listeners today. Certain songs certainly do sound hokey ("Summertime Is Summertime"), but there's little denying the gentle charm and fine craftsmanship of the score from composer Walter Kent and lyricist Kim Gannon. And when the writers turn up the double-entendre heat in numbers like "Reciprocity" (delivered with teasing spunk by Ann Crowley), the score is an utter joy.
Victor Herbert: Eileen (New World Records) A thorough job of detective work has resulted in this impressive first full-scale recording of Victor Herbert's 1916 operetta, set against the backdrop of Irish rebellions at the end of the eighteenth century. Herbert's felicity for lush melodies is in boundless evidence here. But what might be most extraordinary about his work is how it not only presupposes work by Jerome Kern and George Gershwin, but also draws on Irish airs and even John Philip Sousa. Backed by the Orchestra of Ireland, the principals all deliver robust performances, particularly tenor Eamonn Mulhall as the show's hero.
Up in Central Park (Sepia Records) Dorothy Fields' lyrics, delicately filled with witty bite, are probably the main reasons that two songs from this show, originally seen on Broadway in 1945, continue to be popular today, "It Doesn't Cost You Anything to Dream" and "Close as Pages in Book." Not surprisingly, Deanna Durbin's delivery of these Sigmund Romberg tunes prove to be sublime highpoints of this new release of the film's soundtrack. The disc carries ample bonus material, including one number that didn't make it into the film, "Currier and Ives," which displays Fields at her zestiest.
Valarie Pettiford - Velvet Sky (OfficialValeriePettiford.com) Listeners of all ages will find themselves snuggling into this supremely comforting album of original lullabys from Pettiford (a Tony nominee for Fosse). Not only do her vocals carry a warm plushness that can be as inviting as a well-worn blankie, her melodies are a deft combination of fanciful lilts and soothing tones. You can't really go wrong with any of the 13 songs, but particular highlights are the calypso-infused "Mama Say, Baby Do" and the blithely whimsical "A Choo-Choo-Choo Train."