Matt Monro

Love Songs

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This triple-CD set may seem like overkill to all but the most dedicated fan. But across its 54 songs, cut over a 20-year period from 1960 through 1980, as Matt Monro's stunning intonation weaves its spell, it quickly becomes apparent that there's not a wasted moment on any of these songs. Oh, to be sure, there were singers far better suited to "Unchained Melody" than Monro, but he doesn't do any violence to the song, even if he ends up giving a pretty prosaic approach to its soaring lyricism; he more than makes up for it with practically everything else in this package. And improbable as it may seem, his florid pop-style rendition of the Beatles' "All My Loving" does get into some valid permutations of the song that prove worth exploring -- indeed, listening to it, one could easily wish that Monro could have done an album of Beatles songs alongside Alma Cogan. Most of the material here, from the early-'60s releases "Softly, As I Leave You" and "Portrait of My Love," up through "You Light Up My Life," will be familiar as compositions, which only enhances the allure of the set. Moreover, some of Monro's interpretations have virtues that aren't always in evidence on the hit or "classic" versions: with all due respect to Frank Sinatra, for instance, it is refreshing to hear a rendition of "Strangers in the Night" that plays it wholly "straight," without the vamping that, as we now know, hid a certain sarcasm about the song (to judge from Sinatra's parodying of the lyrics on other occasions). The most familiar song here to most listeners under the age of 60 will be "From Russia with Love," but there's a lot else to discover and immerse oneself in, and it's easy to understand why no less a figure than Jimmy Roselli named Monro first among singers that he admired. The digital transfers are first-rate on all of it. The makers have used the stereo masters on all of the relevant material, these vary from fairly subtle and sophisticated mixes to distinctly binaural masters; Monro's voice is always center-stage on all of it, however. Sad to say, for all of the care taken with the selection and the sonics, the makers fell short on the packaging. There is no recording data to speak of, and only the most threadbare of information, and the three discs, each in its separate jewel case, are so tight in the slipcase that houses them that some purchasers may find themselves having to tear the latter (which is no great loss, but still) to get them out.

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