In the liner notes to 2:00 AM Paradise Café, Barry Manilow confessed that the record's concept came to him in a dream and that it's the album for which he'd most like to be remembered. That's some top-shelf comment about an album that seems like a pretty calculated move toward long-term success as a vocal talent, like Mel Tormé or Sarah Vaughan, both of whom duet with him on 2:00 AM. That said, the album does lay down a dusty, late-night groove. Vocally, Manilow is able to sell the concept that this is all taking place in the wee hours inside a half-empty basement cabaret. The shuffling percussion of Shelly Manne is spot on, as are the cool tones of baritone sax man Gerry Mulligan -- you can just picture the blinking neon from the hotel across the street reflecting in the gold of his horn. Mundell Lowe's electric guitar adds a burst of attitude to the otherwise straightforward "Big City Blues," and Manilow and Bill Mays' piano playing is solid throughout. There's a bit of a problem though, since most every arrangement sounds essentially the same. After about half the record, it begins to seem like it's all happening in slow motion, or at least someone's just going through them. It's refreshing to hear stripped-down arrangements and Manilow experimenting a bit with his delivery to suggest he's singing after the streets have rolled up. All of this means that, while 2:00 AM Paradise Café is as pleasant as a nightcap, it's not the fine wine Manilow's dreams told him it would be.
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AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus
feat: Sarah Vaughan
feat: Mel Tormé