Bobby Darin's career went through myriad phases and permutations across barely 15 years of recording -- which was less a result of seeking success than it was a product of Darin's personal desire to try new songs and venture into new musical territories. Mack the Knife is the companion volume to Atco's Splish Splash, offering another 21 songs out of his Atlantic Records catalog, this time from his transition out of rock & roll and teen pop and into more traditional vocal pop. He had his hits here, including a monster in the form of "Mack the Knife," and "Lazy River," "Beyond the Sea," and "Artificial Flowers," done in a pop vein. Darin still brings a vigorous, usually bluesy edge to his work here, perhaps more effectively than Sinatra or Dean Martin (his two obvious role models in this phase of his career) when they worked in those directions; and it's still music that could appeal to rock & roll listeners as they matured. (One imagines the same individuals who, in high school, had danced to "Splish Splash," sitting back and taking in his "Don't Dream of Anybody But Me," or "I'm Good for Nothing But the Blues"; or a rendition of "Guys and Dolls" that offers his own brand of cool, different from that of Sinatra, if not better or more memorable -- but not bad). The songs may be from Tin Pan Alley, and the arrangements closer to Nelson Riddle than to Ray Charles, but as "Down with Love," "Black Coffee," or "Pete Kelly's Blues" demonstrate, he still had a rock & roller's edge -- subtle but there. "Clementine," which sometimes gets so close to Dean Martin's sound that it's eerie, is perhaps the strangest example of this amalgam, an almost rocking rendition; and "Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home" isn't far behind. Produced by Gregg Geller as part of the Atlantic Masters series, this was among the earliest good sounding vintage releases out of the Atlantic catalog, and it still holds up two decades on. What's more, between this and the companion volume, Splish Splash (which covers Darin's more rock & roll-oriented sides), one gets access to 42 songs, a significant chunk of what he recorded for Atlantic, and a brace of styles and genres, all worthwhile. The pacing of the material here is, however, very different from its preceding volume -- this CD also has 21 songs, but it takes 12 minutes longer to get where it's going; smart listeners will sit back and savor the time and the styles here.
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AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder