The Lettermen

New Directions 2010

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Throughout the history of recorded music, there have been generation gaps -- and one of the most intense was the musical gap between the World War II generation and the baby boomers. Many members of the Frank Sinatra/Jo Stafford/Glenn Miller/Nat King Cole generation were never able to comprehend the rock & roll, soul, and funk that their kids listened to, much like the boomers who have never been able to comprehend hip-hop. But one vocal harmony group that can honestly be described as a link between jazz-influenced traditional pop and pop/rock is the Lettermen, whose work was influenced by the Four Freshmen, the Ink Spots, and the Pied Pipers but appealed to fans of the Beach Boys and the Everly Brothers. And after more than half a century of performing, the Lettermen continue to make that traditional pop and pop/rock connection on New Directions 2010. This 2010 edition of the Lettermen isn't the classic '60s lineup; founding member Tony Butala is joined by 1984 arrivals Mark Preston and Donovan Tea. But the sound of the trio is very much the same, and the group still favors an easy listening approach that is jazz-influenced but essentially falls into the pop/rock and soft rock category. Joining the Lettermen on New Directions 2010 is the orchestra of Les Brown, Jr., whose father, Les Brown, Sr. (b. 1912, d. 2001), led one of the top sweet bands of the late '30s, '40s, and '50s. Brown, Jr. co-produced this 46-minute CD with Butala, and true to form, the Lettermen find inspiration in traditional pop, sweet bands, and Tin Pan Alley as well as pop/rock and R&B. Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen's Sinatra-associated "Come Fly with Me" and Johnny Mercer's "Dream" (a major hit for the Pied Pipers in 1945) work well for the Lettermen, but so do Earth, Wind & Fire's "After the Love Has Gone" and the Doobie Brothers' "Listen to the Music." Although not quite in a class with the Lettermen's best '60s recordings, New Directions 2010 is an enjoyable and nicely executed outing from this long-running vocal trio.

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