It has taken nearly half a century, but Chris Connor finally seems to be losing her cool. The problem, though, is as much one of expectation as it is execution. By most standards, Haunted Heart would be judged a decent effort. But history demands that Connor be judged by standards much higher than most. With the breathtaking minimalism of those early Bethlehem recordings, the effervescence of her Atlantic years, that intriguing (and frustratingly obscure) pair of FM albums and such notable later achievements as Love Being Here With You and New Again, Connor has set her own bar impossibly high.
Richard Rodney Bennett once aptly described Connor as "a brilliant tightrope walker...in constant danger of losing [her] balance." Haunted Heart chronicles that inevitable tumble. All those years of hard work and hardship have taken their toll. That soaring, skillfully controlled voice is now a raspy shadow of its former, stirring self.
She struggles hardest with the up-tempo numbers. "Day In, Day Out" has all the bounce of a medicine ball, and "By Myself" sadly lacks that spicy hint of arrogant bravado that Connor once routinely lent to it. Equally disappointing is her treatment of the seasonal chestnut "Snowfall." As long ago demonstrated by both Tony Bennett and Doris Day, the Claude Thornhill trifle demands a touch as light as a twilight dusting. Here, Connor's rather leaden reading stands in discordant contrast to Bill Easley's delicate flute work.
Still, shades of her former magnificence are evident on the ballads. It takes a lifetime of rough spots and wrong turns to serve up so nakedly regretful a rendition of Cahn and Van Heusen's "Only the Lonely," while Johnny Mercer's "Drinking Again," which pits Connor against a solo piano, is as moving a paean to faded glory as June Christy's classic "Something Cool."