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March 2001

Monica Mancini
The Dreams of Johnny Mercer
Concord Records

Monica Mancini's beautiful singing of "Skylark" bolsters the proposition that Johnny Mercer was a poet, the greatest of all American lyricists. She underlines the cleverness of "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive," "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" and "The Weekend of a Private Secretary," and the ironic opportunism of "It Had Better Be Tonight." Seven other sets of lyrics discovered after Mercer died and set to music by Barry Manilow are not in the same league but, then, "Skylark" is formidable competition for any song, including all the rest of Mercer's except "Early Autumn."

Still, "Something Tells Me" and "When October Goes" are superior songs. Appropriate to the concept of the album, Mancini sings like a dream even when the lyrics are not top-rung Mercer. Her expressiveness, interpretation and intonation are pleasures throughout. She and arrangers Michael Lang and Greg Field take "Atchison, Topeka" into country-blues territory. Other fine arrangements are by Patrick Williams, David Torres and Randy Waldman. Singing all of the parts but the bass notes in "Ac-cent-tchu-ate," Mancini's duplicate selves give groups like The Manhattan Transfer and Take Six a run for their money. Warren Luening has a couple of beguiling flugelhorn solos. Pianist Lang accompanies Mancini sensitively and solos beautifully on "Skylark" and "When the Meadow Was Bloomin'," making me want to hear more of them as a duo.

Originally published in March 2001
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