Michael Feinstein with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
If every singer shared Michael Feinstein's impeccable taste, the music world would be a much nicer place. With the possible exception of his pal Rosemary Clooney, no performer has worked harder than Feinstein to preserve and protect the Great American Songbook or has done so with such stylish perspicacity. Like an overzealous museum creator, he cares so deeply about the songs and their provenance that he's sometimes accused of being overly stiff and staid. Such, however, is not the case on Michael Feinstein With the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (Concord). Under the skillful direction of arranger-conductor Alan Broadbent, Feinstein's first recording with a symphonic orchestra is also one of his best. This is a looser, easier-going Feinstein with a hint of world-weary vulnerability. Unlike less intuitive singers, he appreciates the artful playfulness of Cy Coleman's "The Best Is Yet to Come," starting off slowly and seductively then building to orgasmic satisfaction. On "Stormy Weather" he cuts loose with a thunder-cracking exuberance that rivals the no-holds-barred treatment captured on Judy Garland's legendary Carnegie Hall recording, and his "By Myself" effectively replaces self-flagellation with strident self-determination. "Love Is Here to Stay," a Feinstein staple, is as delicately lovely as always and "On a Clear Day" left me hoping that his future plans include an entire disc of Alan Jay Lerner gems. At the end of the album, Feinstein revisits Jerry Herman's "I Won't Send Roses." I didn't think it possible for him to improve upon the version he included on 1988's Isn't It Romantic, but he has. Richer and more nature, it elevates a significantly undervalued show tune to classic status.