Recorded in London just two years before his death, My Huckleberry Friend includes nearly an hour and half of singer Johnny Mercer updating his own compositions. The American musical giant is accompanied by the Pete Moore Orchestra and the Harry Roche Constellation. Mercer's voice is solid throughout this 25-track record that marries his Tin Pan Alley lyrical style with diverse pop arrangements. The song "It's Great to Be Alive" says it all about this release: "It's great to be alive, to work from nine to five." Fans of Mercer will enjoy this record, while purists may prefer his earlier (and more traditional) recordings. Mercer's career may have slowed down due to the onslaught of rock & roll, but he was never intimidated by the new styles. (After all, he founded Capitol Records, the home of the Beatles.) So in 1974, he flew to London to record new interpretations of some of his old classics. The results are often stunning. The "Shaft"-like version of "That Old Black Magic," with its funk-fortified guitar and soul-splashed keyboards, is an archival treat. Mercer truly gets down when he sings "Every time your lips meet mine/Down and down I go/All around I go/Loving the spin I'm in/Under that old black magic called love." This tasty morsel will be jarring for listeners who only associate the name Mercer with '40s songs like "G.I. Jive" or soundtrack cuts like "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" or "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah." Mercer and arranger Pete Moore, however, do not abandon the big-band swing sound closely associated with these songs. And sometimes that is a problem. The moody and ethereal "The Days of Wine and Roses" is out of place next to some of the more modern-sounding tracks. The typical '70s instrumentations (dual use of flute and trumpet, etc.) make some songs sound hilariously familiar. The piano in "Too Marvelous for Words" hints at the "Theme From the Odd Couple." But if you are listening to Mercer, you expect some nostalgia, right? The only real criticism of this collection (besides the purists' crazy notion that funk and rock have no place in these standards) is that the pop flavors of the time are not embraced more completely: The funk guitar in "Something's Gotta Give" is strangely married to a brassy, swinging orchestration. There are some traditional takes here, especially on "Summer Wind," "Autumn Leaves," "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home," and "One for My Baby." Fans of lounge music and neo-swingers who appreciate Mercer will particularly like this collection. Who else would the island sounds of "Pineapple Pete" be for? My Huckleberry Friend" ends with a great reflection on Mercer's career: "Don't let it be said Old Unsteady can't carry his load. Make it one for my baby and one more for the road. That long, long, long, long road."
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AllMusic Review by JT Griffith