Various Artists

Blues in the Night: The Johnny Mercer Songbook

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Contrary to Verve's blurb on the sticker of this CD, this is not the first songbook album devoted to the lyrics of Johnny Mercer; indeed, none other than Verve was responsible for an Ella Fitzgerald/Mercer songbook back in 1964. Needless to say, Ella is here, as is an all-star gallery of Verve, Mercury. MGM and Mars artists in an anthology spanning some 40 years of recording history and about 16 years of Mercer's work (1936-52). There are some enterprising choices like Buddy Rich singing "Goody Goody" quite competently in front of a big band, the first recording of the lyrics to "Early Autumn" via a rare Woody Herman recording on his own Mars label, and Helen Merrill drifting over the dissonantly loose Gil Evans Orchestra in "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home." Of the most famous songs identified with Mercer, Louis Armstrong's marvelous meeting with the Oscar Peterson Quartet on "Blues in The Night," Anita O'Day's buoyant "Come Rain Or Come Shine" with Jimmy Giuffre's off-center ensemble, and Billie Holiday's hard-boiled treatment of "One For My Baby" (with sweet and sultry obligatos by Harry "Sweets" Edison and Ben Webster) stand out. Other artists heard here include Bing Crosby, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Billy Eckstine, Margaret Whiting, Mel Tormé, Joe Williams, and Dee Dee Bridgewater. Throughout, when not distracted by the musical quick-changes, the listener is seduced by Mercer's facility with lingering images and interior rhymeplay. And even though a single disc isn't quite enough to sum up Mercer's achievement - after all, it isn't easy to choose 16 songs out of some 1, 500 - this is only Volume One.

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