Here I Am
A few months ago, R&B icon Aaron Neville proved himself stunningly adept at tackling jazz standards with his aptly titled Verve debut, Nature Boy: The Standards Album. Now another legendary brother, Ron Isley, is following in Neville's footsteps with the equally formidable Here I Am: Ronald Isley Sings Burt Bacharach (DreamWorks). Teaming with Bacharach himself (who does quintuple duty as writer, arranger, producer, conductor and guest vocalist on "Windows on the World"), Isley, backed by a 40-piece orchestra, settles into a comfortable berth midway between the ethereal fragility of Jimmy Scott and the silken authority of Smokey Robinson. All the expected Bacharach-David gems-"Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," "A House Is Not a Home," "Alfie," "Make It Easy on Yourself," "Close to You" and a spicy "Look of Love" that puts Diana Krall's icy rendition to shame-are here. Far more interesting, though, are such comparative obscurities as the feathery "In Between the Heartaches" and the title track (thematically a near exact replica of "Close to You.") Isley also covers two new Bacharach compositions, both cowritten with Tonio K. Neither, unfortunately, is particularly inspired. "Count on Me" comes across like a fluffier "That's What Friends Are For" and the overproduced, Latin-accented "Love's (Still) the Answer" overwhelms the delicate beauty of Isley's voice. In place of these pedestrian outings, I'd have much preferred to hear Isley dig deeper into the Bacharach songbook to cover, say, "Promises, Promises" or "Knowing When to Leave." Maybe next time.