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Johnny Mathis: Isn’t It Romantic

A dozen or so years ago, while wading through Jazz Singing, writer Will Friedwald’s behemoth homage to personal bias, I remember stumbling over references to Johnny Mathis as a “must to avoid,” a “really bad singer” and an example of “absolute badness.” Such cruelty didn’t surprise me. Mathis has long been a favorite whipping boy for those whose critical blinders (or, more accurately, earplugs) filter out anything that might brand them a square. Well, I’ve squarely admired Mathis for as long as I can remember. I have warmly welcomed the too-few CD reissues of his early albums (most notably his superb, eponymous Columbia debut from 1956, featuring Art Farmer, Phil Woods, Ray Brown and J.J. Johnson) and, while admitting he’s no Mark Murphy (who is?), look forward to any new addition to his vast library of pop standards and show tunes. Mathis’ latest, Isn’t It Romantic (Columbia), arrives about six months prior to his 70th birthday and coincides with his career’s 50th anniversary. By the time Sinatra started hitting those sorts of touchstones, his vocal magnificence had been reduced to stubble. Not so Mathis. Throughout the 10 tracks assembled here-a standards-heavy set that meanders from “Day by Day” and “Dindi” to Kermit the Frog’s lollipop-sweet “The Rainbow Connection” (with a stop along the way for a gorgeously haunted “Cottage for Sale”)-the once and future makeout king sounds heavenly as ever.

Originally Published