Michael Feinstein has turned out to be surprisingly prolific; Forever is his 11th album to be released since his 1985 debut with Pure Gershwin. But it might also be called his first "regular" album in four years, since 1989's The M.G.M. Album, that is, if one counts his four "songbook" albums (vocal-and-piano collections of the work of a particular songwriter, with that songwriter at the piano) devoted to Burton Lane (two volumes), Jule Styne, and Jerry Herman, and his children's album, Pure Imagination, as special projects. A "regular" Michael Feinstein album would be one on which he puts together a program of various classic pop songs and sings them over orchestral and/or big-band arrangements. Forever might also be considered a first-ever album for him, however, in the sense that, while he has put the occasional recent, current, or even brand-new copyright on one of his albums before, if it fit in with his traditional pop style, this time he has gone for a half-and-half balance of old and new. To be sure, there are selections that are very much in keeping with what he usually does. Rodgers & Hart's "My Romance," Harold Rome's "Wish You Were Here," Walter Donaldson's "Little White Lies," and Johnny Mercer and Richard Whiting's "Too Marvelous for Words" are all standards of many decades' vintage, and, as usual, Feinstein makes them different by presenting versions that include arcane passages most people leave out, notably the introductory verses to "My Romance" and "Wish You Were Here." The most extreme example of this is "Too Marvelous for Words," which includes a lot more words than it does in most recordings of it. Feinstein the archivist went back to the movie for which the song was written, Ready Willing and Able, and picked out all the extra lyrics as different versions were sung throughout the film. Along with these evergreens, Forever is loaded with old-sounding new songs, such as "Song" (containing the line "Love is forever"), written for Feinstein by Paul Horner; "Soon," written by Barry Manilow for the animated film Thumbelina; "Whatever Happened to the Melody," by Cynthia Thompson and Ray Jessel; and "I'll Be There" by Alan & Marilyn Bergman (lyrics) and Dave Grusin (music). All of these are premiere recordings, as is Feinstein's own compositional collaboration with Bob Merrill, "Half of April (Most of May)," marking the first time the singer has recorded his own music. These songs all sound like the songs he usually performs, even if they are new. More surprising are Feinstein's renditions of Jimmy Webb's "Time Enough for Love" and, especially, Van Morrison's "Moondance" (presented in even more of a big-band/swing direction than the songwriter's own hit recording). But taken together, it all makes for a varied collection of material that suggests new directions for Feinstein while also showcasing what has made him successful before.
by William Ruhlmann