Lee Lessack

Too Marvelous for Words: The Songs of Johnny Mercer

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Johnny Mercer's words and music fill a lot of space in the Great American Popular Songbook. He has penned words for the music of some of the most venerable songs in popular song history. It's hard not to find something by Mercer on albums cut by contemporary singers as well as on those by the great song stylists of the past. Albums paying tribute to his work are found throughout the popular song discography. Now comes Les Lessack, singer and recording company executive, with his entry honoring the Savannah-born lyricist. Recorded live in cabaret before an appreciative audience, Lessack runs through a 15-tune play list of mostly well-known Mercer material with a balance between light, cute, and novelty, and serious material. "Pineapple Pete" and "Whatcha-Ma-Call-It" are examples of the former. "Pineapple Pete" is the vehicle for good-natured banter by Lessack as he picks up a fluke (like a ukulele) to accompany himself. In good cabaret tradition, the medley of Mercer's travel music is adorned with vignettes about the songs. Ballads, on the other hand, are treated with almost devotional respect as they are delivered with deep, sincere emotional feeling. Occasionally John Boswell accompanies Lessack like he is backing a classical vocalist doing lieder by Robert Schuman. The playing becomes ponderous and at times overwhelms Lessack, as on "My Shining Hour" and some other cuts. It's too bad because Lessack throws everything he has into each tune and every bit of his expressiveness, a critical part of his delivery, needs to be heard. The Lessack voice has a touch of Johnny Mathis, especially the way he uses vibrato at the end of each phrase. Aside from the occasional burly piano, this entertaining tribute to Mercer is recommended.

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