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Jeff Harnar: Dancing in the Dark

I’ve been less than shy about sharing my negative opinion of Rod Stewart’s Great American Songbook series. You can’t call the sticky porridge Stewart keeps serving up jazz. It’s certainly not rock, nor quite pop. Which places it, by default, in that gray area known as cabaret. If that’s where these dreadful discs must lie, then I recommend you leave them there to atrophy and instead discover one of the genre’s true connoisseurs, Jeff Harnar.

Where Stewart opts for overlush productions of the safest, most predictable tunes, Harnar has, throughout a two-decade career that includes just four solo albums, consistently mined exponentially more intelligent choices. Consider, for example, his masterful 1991 live recording that shaped four dozen show tunes, all drawn from the 1959 Broadway season, into a single tale of love lost and found.

This time around, Harnar, working yet again with equally bright arranger and conductor Alex Rybeck, travels from the sublimely familiar (an infectiously gleeful “Taking a Chance on Love”) to the playfully ridiculous: Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn’s sweetly cynical “Put ‘Em in a Box (Tie It With a Ribbon),” written for Doris Day’s 1948 film debut, Romance on the High Seas, demonstrating the sort of sincerely sophisticated showmanship that Stewart sweats buckets to attain one-tenth of.

Originally Published