Johnny Mathis

Love Is Blue

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After a less than encouraging stint on the Mercury label in the mid-'60s, traditional pop (i.e. easy listening) vocalist Johnny Mathis had returned to his former home, Columbia Records. Once back, they gave him the JonMat Records vanity imprint for his output. Love Is Blue (1968) is a typical Mathis long-player for the time, as the singer doles out readings of then-concurrent popular chart hits, with a few classics mixed in. Adding immeasurably to the project's overall sound are arrangements by Robert Mersey -- who had also contributed to the artist's previous long-playing collection, Up, Up and Away (1967). Enthusiasts of Mathis are treated to his singular vocal styling applied to a host of familiar material -- most of which doesn't stray too far from the originals or hit versions. While certainly not depicted or portrayed as a "concept" or tribute album, nearly half of the platter contains songs penned by the formidable team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. These include the opener "I Say a Little Prayer" -- with a slight lyrical alteration from "...put on my makeup..." to "...get shaved and set up..." -- as well as "The Look of Love," "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," and "Walk on By." Jimmy Webb -- who was supplying chart-toppers to the likes of the Fifth Dimension and Glen Campbell -- is the source for "By the Time I Get to Phoenix." When compared to Campbell, Mathis imbues the material with a more understated and subtle empathy. Perhaps the entry that is most dissimilar to its origins is the update of the Beatles -- or more accurately Paul McCartney's -- "Here, There and Everywhere." The slowed tempo and copious orchestration turn the melody into an epic torch song, as opposed to the less heavy-handed treatment heard on the Beatles' Revolver (1966). On the other hand, "Never My Love" -- a sizable side for the Association in the early fall of 1967 -- retains a similarly light and otherwise unaffected overhaul. Several of the disc's highlights are left until the end with "Moon River" arguably besting Andy Williams' on sheer emotive tone. Another definite upgrade is "Venus" -- the ballad that Frankie Avalon sent to the top of the Pop Singles survey in 1959. Here it is served with decidedly more soul than saccharine. Perhaps wanting to save one the of the best inclusions for the conclusion, the title track, "Love Is Blue," is tagged on at the very end. Paul Mauriat's upbeat Baroque flavor is all but forgotten as Mathis chooses passion over strictly pop in his excellent delivery. As is the case with much of his output of the era, exactly which the listener prefers is more a matter of personal taste than the effectiveness of the interpretation. In 2009, Collectors' Choice Music paired Love Is Blue with another late-'60s Mathis LP Up, Up and Away (1967) -- both made available for the first time in several decades.