Barry Manilow has busied himself with concept albums since 2004's Scores: Songs from Copacabana and Harmony but This Is My Town: Songs of New York may be the best of the batch. It helps that the idea -- songs from his hometown of New York City -- is clearly defined, less amorphous than his salutes to the decades, and not as mawkish as My Dream Duets, his last album. Manilow isn't ready to leave behind the electronic duets that drove that record -- he cobbles together a virtual duet with Mel Tormé on "The Brooklyn Bridge" -- but that's merely an accent on a record that finds Manilow offering a musical tour of the five boroughs. Naturally, there's an element of cheese here -- it's evident not only on the goofy "Coney Island" but in how he interpolates Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind" -- but that's part of his charm: he's always happy to smile along with his audience, offering a show with his song. And, crucially, This Is My Town: Songs of New York progresses like a cabaret show, opening with the keynote title track, sliding into a slow number four cuts in ("Lonely Town"), playing with the collective memory of the audience via covers of the Drifters, and then ending with a rousing medley. Perhaps the production is a touch too clean, but Manilow's panache and expert song selection compensate for such polish: this feels not like an exercise, but a record he believes in and, after a decade of affable nostalgia, that's really welcome.
This Is My Town: Songs of New York Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine