Thursday, May 26, 2011

cd review- Tom Wopat Sings Harold Arlen & Consider It Swung

Tom Wopat, who currently co-stars in Catch Me If You Can on Broadway, has had a varied career.  First achieving success on tv as one of the Dukes of Hazzard, he has appeared in ten Broadway shows including getting Tony nominations for his performances in the revival of Annie Get Your Gun and in A Catered Affair.  Wopat also appeared in the Broadway casts of City of Angels, Guys and Dolls, Chicago, 42nd Street and Glengarry Glen Ross as well as Sondheim on Sondheim last season.   He has also released eight solo recordings.  His first several recordings were country focused, but his last few have been jazz based, with the cds including many selections from the American standard songbook.

Last year we saw Wopat doing his jazz cabaret concert at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark (NJPAC.)  That concert was right before he released his latest recording entitled, Consider It Swung and he performed many selections from that recording at NJPAC.  This was also right after he appeared in the Seattle, Pre-Broadway run of Catch Me If You Can and right before he was on Broadway in Sondheim on Sondheim.   Wopat is the consummate entertainer and the cabaret setting, where he performed for about 400 people, gave him the chance to really connect with everyone in the room.   We previously saw him several years back when he toured with Faith Prince in celebration of the centennial of Harold Arlen's birthday.  At the same time he released an all Arlen recording, Tom Wopat Sings Harold Arlen.  This recording is a knock out, with amazing accompaniment and Wopat in great voice.

The Arlen cd evokes a smokey jazz night club with Wopat's deep, husky voice wrapping around the lyrics.   The jazz band he has supporting him is excellent and the arrangements throughout the cd give the band plenty of moments to shine.  Starting off with a great version of "That Old Black Magic" that gives Wopat the chance to show off his abilities to connect with the material from a jazz perspective.  "My Shining Hour" is lovingly delivered by Wopat, with a nice understated arrangement that starts off slow, then evolves into a more upbeat and layered accompaniment.  Wopat gives us a great take on "If I Only Had a Brain" from The Wizard of Oz that combines the lyrics from the three versions of the song heard in the film.  He has a lot of fun with the song, and manages not to get tongue tied with the intricate lyric rhymes.  This is followed by what has to be one of the best takes on "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)" the quintessential song about a late nite drunken yearning from a melancholy man.  "Over the Rainbow" starts off with the seldom heard introduction to the song with Wopat managing to connect with the lyrics and making this often heard song seem fresh and new with the perfect jazz arrangement.

"Come Rain or Come Shine" is delivered in a somewhat slower version than is usually heard, but presented in this way, Wopat rings the wanting nature of the lyric and turns it into a somewhat desperate plea for attention.  The arrangement for "Accentuate the Positive" really allows not only for Wopat to swing the song but for the saxophone player to have a nice solo as well.  Wopat's delivery of "Hit the Road to Dreamland"  starts out with a dreamy arrangement then kicks it up a notch with a lovely xylophone solo that perfectly captures the dreamy point of the song.  "So Long Big Time" is delivered straight on but still gives Wopat and the band a change to swing it.  "Last Night When We Were Young" is the last track on the cd and is probably the one song on the recording that is delivered in the simplest manner by both Wopat and the band, which is a nice way to close out the recording.   Sam Arlen, Harold's son, plays the saxophone on the recording.

His latest cd, Consider it Swung, is an interesting mix of standards, 60's and 70's folk pop songs and a few recent songs as well.  Using some of the same jazz players to support him, it is a nice followup to the Arlen recording.  "That's Life" starts the cd off and fortunately it doesn't fall into yet other Sinatra imitation of the song that others feel is the only way to sing the song.  "Spinning Wheel" has a little out of the norm arrangement but Wopat and the band have fun with it and the Gershwin classic "But Not For Me" is delivered in a beautiful, heartfelt way.  "Ode to Billy Joe" has a driving guitar arrangement and an understated but direct delivery of the lyrics by Wopat that pairs nicely with the arrangement.  "2 Grey Rooms" is a haunting song written by Joni Mitchell and Wopat effectively evokes the melancholy, obsessive nature of this story song.   "Thailand Sea" was written by Wopat when he was making a movie in Thailand and is a nice love song with a beautiful arrangement.  It is pretty amazing to hear "Deacon Blues" sung with a jazz arrangement, the lyrics really come through and what was once just a late 70's soft pop hit for Steely Dan takes on a whole new life with Wopat at the helm.  Wopat's cut Catch Me song "50 Checks" is included as well (it's also a bonus song on the cast recording of the show) and Wopat delivers the song swingingly.   I love the arrangement for "You Fascinate Me So" it perfectly evokes a dreamy landscape and works beautifully with the song.  The classic song "42nd Street" that Wopat sung in the Broadway revival of that show ends the cd and it is slowed down slightly to let the lyrics wash over you.  Wopat and the lyrics also blend beautifully with the jazzy arrangement that includes a lovely saxophone focus.

At both the Arlen concert and the NJPAC cabaret, Wopat was such a professional entertainer who met his fans after both shows, and in the case of the Arlen concert was in the lobby before the show and at intermission as well.  We briefly spoke to him at both shows and the love he had for this music so clearly came through when he spoke.  It's nice to see a performer have such a connection and a love for the music he's performing.

I really enjoy both of these recordings so if you're looking for some jazz focused recordings I urge you to check them out.

Tom's Official Site

Audio Clips from the Harold Arlen cd:

Track list for the Arlen cd
1. That Old Black Magic
2. Dissertation On The State Of Bliss (Love And Learn)
3. My Shining Hour
4. If I Only Had A Brain  
5. One For My Baby
6. Over The Rainbow
7. Look Who's Been Dreaming
8. Come Rain Or Come Shine
9. Accentuate The Positive
10. Hit The Road To Dreamland
11. So Long Big Time
12. Last Night When We Were Young

Track list for Consider it Swumg:
1. That's Life
2. Spinning Wheel
3. But Not For Me
4. Ode To Billie Joe
5. 2 Grey Rooms
6. Maybe Someday Baby
7. Thailand Sea
8. You'd Rather Have The Blues
9. Deacon Blues
10. 50 Checks
11. You Fascinate Me So
12. 42nd Street
13. Natural Man
14. The Last Night Of The Year

Amazon link for the cd of  - Tom Wopat Sings Harold Arlen: Dissertation on the State of Bliss

Amazon link for the MP3 of - Dissertation On The State Of Bliss: Tom Wopat Sings Harold Arlen

Amazon link for the cd of Consider It Swung

Compilation video that includes Wopat singing some great songs -

Behind the scenes of the recording of "That's Life" -

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