One of the reasons that Barbara Cook has been a success in her second career as a concert and nightclub singer, after a first career as a Broadway musical star, is, ironically, that she has so completely reinvented herself. She still sings show music, by and large, but unlike other stage veterans who have moved to the concert hall, she isn't still trying to perform those songs in character, at least, in the characters for which they were written. Rather, she has created (or revealed) her own unique persona, that of a warm, sincere, yet considered figure who renders the songs in a sympathetic, knowing manner. In this, she is aided and abetted by her accompanist, arranger, and producer Wally Harper, who also is not beholden to the original stage versions of the songs, and instead creates musical settings that, while commenting occasionally on the originals, shape and support Cook's vocal interpretations. These general remarks apply as well to her eighth solo album as they do to her first. On Oscar Winners: The Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II, she presents her second tribute to a lyricist. (1993's Close as Pages in a Book featured the songs of Dorothy Fields). Lyricists don't usually get such showcases, but Hammerstein rewards the attention, his simple, direct, poetic words expressing a world view no matter what character is supposed to be singing them, no matter which composer he is complementing. Cook and Harper begin with the Oklahoma! opener "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" just as the original version did, a cappella. But from there, these takes are their own. Whether presenting the witty "The Gentlemen Is a Dope" and emphasizing the emotional turmoil over the wordplay, or taking "Edelweiss" in a more pop direction, Cook gives us her Oscar Hammerstein II, not the stage's, and the great wordsmith comes off all the better for it. The result is another Barbara Cook triumph.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann