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Barry Manilow brings nothing new to ‘Songs’

‘The Greatest Songs of the Fifties’ only makes you long for originals, plus other reviews
/ Source: The Associated Press

This week's reviews include a cover album of pop classics from the '50s from '70s idol Barry Manilow and Broadway star Heather Headley tries to tap contemporary R&B audience with “In My Mind.”

“The Greatest Songs of the Fifties,” Barry ManilowYou have to admire Barry Manilow’s courage.

Making an album of 14 covers of pop classics that have endured for 50 years and risking comparison with their beloved — even sacred — original versions takes plenty of guts.

And Manilow’s renditions aren’t bad.

The problem is that most of these songs will always belong to their original owners.

One original owner is present: Phyllis McGuire joins Manilow on a medley of two hits she had with the McGuire Sisters, “Sincerely” and “Teach Me Tonight,” and still sounds pretty good, even after 50 years.

And Manilow’s arrangement of “Beyond the Sea” as a ballad rather than as Bobby Darin’s hip, upbeat, finger-snapper restores the poignancy and beauty of this song about a soldier yearning to be reunited with his beloved.

But let it be said that “It’s Not for Me To Say” need not be sung by anyone but Johnny Mathis. The same is true for “Venus” and Frankie Avalon, “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and Elvis, and so on.

And although Manilow hardly embarrasses himself on “Unchained Melody,” this song simply doesn’t sound right in the hands of anyone but the Righteous Brothers (whose definitive version, by the way, was released in 1965, 10 years after the song was introduced by Al Hibbler).

Manilow’s voice still has the pleasant, friendly sound that helped him pump out all those hits in the 1970s and 80s. On this album, though, he sometimes seems to be too concerned with his enunciation.

This is a top-notch playlist, and these songs are always good to hear — even if doing so makes us long for the real thing.— Ron Berthel

“In My Mind,” Heather HeadleyBest known for her Tony Award-winning role in the Broadway musical “Aida,” Heather Headley easily made the transition from Playbill to Billboard and disproved nay-sayers with her dazzling 2002 debut, “This Is Who I Am.”

Despite the spellbinding title track, however, Headley’s encore, “In My Mind,” is no repeat performance. She’s still at her best belting melodramatic, mid-tempo tracks about relationship drama — from infidelity (“I Didn’t Mean To”) and an overdue breakup (“Wait a Minute”) to unrequited love (“In My Mind”).

But the disc hits a sour note on several uptempo tracks, notably the doo-wop dud “What’s Not Being Said,” on which Headley sings with an odd country twang, and “Rain,” a requisite, reggae-flavored track featuring Shaggy.

Unlike the dramatic, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis-penned gem, “I Wish I Wasn’t” from “This Is Who I Am,” most of the songs here sound dated and uninspired. Contrary to her riveting stage performances, Headley’s polished pipes fail to transcend the disc’s formulaic material, and even the closing gospel song, “Change,” is underwhelming.

Without an edgier sound that resonates with the contemporary R&B audience, Headley’s recording career may sadly be short-lived. The good news is that this talented beauty will always have a home on Broadway.— Tracy E. Hopkins

“Your Man,” Josh TurnerTwo years ago, baritone-voiced Josh Turner created a stir by selling a million copies of his “Long Black Train” debut on the strength of a title song with an explicit Christian message unusual even for country music.

He’s taken awhile to follow-up, but the title cut of “Your Man” is Turner’s second country Top 10 hit, and it too breaks precedent by presenting a classy come-on that directly addresses sex between a married couple — another unusual topic for the country charts.

The romantic theme is perfect for Turner’s distinctive vocals, which marry Barry White’s tonal richness with Don Williams’ relaxed rhythms. It’s not the album’s only carnal tune, either: On “No Rush,” the newly married Turner speaks of taking his sweet-loving time with his partner.

Besides his one-of-a-kind voice, Turner’s strength is avoiding the lyrical and musical cliches that sometims gives commercial country music a cookie-cutter sameness. Turner proves you can make a stand by taking chances, as he does throughout “Your Man,” especially on the hilarious celebrity-hound send-up, “Loretta Lynn’s Lincoln,” and the affirmation of faith on “Me and God” (the latter a duet with bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley).— Michael McCall