Back when Broadway musicals used to be a source for pop hits, it wasn't unusual for a singer to record one or more tunes from a show prior to the show's opening. The singer would provide his or her own interpretation, rearranging the song and even changing the lyrics from what they were in the show, sometimes making a song that was a satire on-stage into a more conventional romantic number. For their so-far-unproduced musical, composer Cy Coleman and lyricist Ira Gasman have returned to this practice, putting together a "world premiere recording" of "music from The Life, a new musical." The singers are a collection of middle-of-the-road performers, most of whom won't see 40 again (the exception is Jennifer Holliday, who was 35 the day the album was released) and one of whom, George Burns, recorded his selection at the age of 99! Not surprisingly, not only do the approach and the performers represent throwbacks to an earlier era; so does the music. The Life may be "about life on 42nd Street in the late '70s," as a sleeve note reveals, but the music is about life in nightclubs in the mid-'50s. Coleman's early successes were with songs written for Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett back then, and he hasn't strayed far from them, while Gasman pitches in with serviceable but cliché-filled lyrics. It's easy to imagine the '50s Sinatra swaggering through "Piece of the Action" or "Use What You Got," while Liza Minnelli does her usual impersonation of her mother, Judy Garland, on three of the songs. The singers are a distinguished bunch, including Joe Williams, Lou Rawls, Bobby Short, Jack Jones, Billy Preston, and Lesley Gore, but the material is pedestrian and offers them few challenges. The Life missed its opportunity to make it to Broadway -- it should have been put on no later than the early '60s. Today, even a revival would be a little ripe.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann