For a songwriter who has won two Tony Awards for best score (Nine and Titanic), Maury Yeston has flown surprisingly far under the radar, relatively little-known even among musical theater fans. That he is not famous with the general public is understandable just because he has worked in an age when show tunes don't tend to get on the hit parade, and when cast albums only occasionally get in the charts. His lack of renown within the theater crowd has to do with his infrequent appearances on Broadway (Nine came in 1982, Titanic in 1997, with only Grand Hotel, to which Yeston added material to an existing score, in between in 1989), and to his remove from the scene as an academic who seems to deliberately maintain a low public profile. Tommy Krasker, co-founder of PS Classics and producer of The Maury Yeston Songbook, seeks to increase the exposure of Yeston's work, at least insofar as it may relate to getting his songs performed more on the nightclub circuit. At least that's what appears to be the case from his selections for the album and the arrangements, orchestrations, and vocal performances Krasker has commissioned for it. Of the 20 selections, a full half -- five each -- come from two sources, Nine, which is, essentially, a score devoted to individual showcase numbers for women vying for the attention of the male lead character (that character's big song, the witty patter tune "Guido's Song," is not included), and December Songs, a song cycle Yeston wrote for the 1991 centennial of Carnegie Hall that is also a series of showcase numbers for women (not that women always sing them here). Meanwhile, Krasker has avoided almost entirely the score of Titanic, which consists mostly of plot-based choral numbers (there's only one song, "No Moon"), and completely left out anything from Yeston's concept album Goya…A Life in Song, even though one of its songs, "Till I Loved You," was the composer's only Top 40 hit in a cover version by Barbra Streisand and Don Johnson. As a result, the listener is treated to one emotive performance after another of sincere, emotional songs sung earnestly in cabaret style by a succession of stage and nightclub veterans including Betty Buckley, Liz Callaway, Christine Ebersole, Sutton Foster, and Alice Ripley. Context is eliminated; "My True Love," for example, the song written to be sung by the character of Christine in Yeston's Phantom (a less-well-known version of The Phantom of the Opera) just before she unmasks the Phantom, is here sung by a man, Philip Chaffin. On the other hand, "New Words," a song that has emerged from Yeston's much revised Off-Broadway show now known as In the Beginning as a favorite of women singers, since it is sung by a parent to a child, is here essayed, as it is in the musical, by a man, Brent Barrett, but not as well as women including Callaway have done it previously. Listeners coming to Yeston with only a slight familiarity with his music will think him a passionate writer on the basis of these selections and performances, and he is. But there's also much more to him as a composer than what is heard here.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann