On her seventh solo album, former Broadway star Barbara Cook finally found a home on her fifth label, show-music-friendly DRG Records. MCA Classics had released her celebrated previous LP, 1988's Disney Album, but that proved to be a one-off project. DRG and producer Hugh Fordin, however, knew what to do with Cook, which was, essentially, to let her do what she did best, sing show music. Close as Pages in a Book was a songbook tribute to lyricist Dorothy Fields, a songwriter not much previously recognized, both because she wrote only words, not music (the composers always get more attention), and because she was a girl in what was very much a boys' club. But Fields had an extensive career writing for stage and screen, and Cook's selection of 13 songs gives a sense of breadth. The singer's strengths lean toward the expression of sincere romantic feeling, and she wisely looks for Fields lyrics that support that tone. Songs like the title tune, "Make the Man Love Me," and "The Way You Look Tonight" (a duet with Tommy Tune) are right up her street, and she also gets a lot out of more buoyant material such as "I Can't Give You Anything but Love," "I'm in the Mood for Love," and even "Bojangles of Harlem." On the other hand, she eschews Fields lyrics not suited to her, such as the "sarcastic love song" (as it was subtitled originally) "A Fine Romance," and the arch "Big Spender." Those may be among Fields' best-known songs, but Cook is more comfortable with more open-hearted sentiments. Particularly welcome are her discoveries of more obscure Fields songs such as "April Snow" and "April Fooled Me." Arrangers Peter Matz, Michael Gibson, and Wally Harper (who also conducted) provide Cook with sympathetic arrangements that sometimes hark back to the 1920s style of Fields' earliest material with composer Jimmy McHugh. The album is a celebration both of the most accomplished female show tune lyricist of the 20th century, and one of the strongest show tune interpreters of the century's second half.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann