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Keith England : Standards, New & Used

The pitch letter, encouraging JazzTimes to review Keith England’s solo debut, begins, “I know what you’re thinking, ‘Great, another rock singer staring down the barrel of middle age has decided to dress up like dad and mine the Great American Songbook.’ Just what we need.” The statement assumes, of course, that we all know who Keith England is (or, at least, was). But, unless you’re a diehard fan of the Allman Brothers Band, you’re unlikely to know that England sang backup for the band, presumably (though his bio isn’t overly precise) during the period between Duane Allman’s death in ’71 and Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts’ decision to go separate ways in ’76. Tucked into a corner of the cover of England’s disc is the line, “featuring Mike Melvoin.” Now, there’s a recognizable name.

One of the greatest keyboardists in the history of the L.A. scene, Melvoin has worked with everyone from Stan Getz and Nina Simone to Peggy Lee and Nancy Wilson, appeared on the soundtracks for Rocky and Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me and, within the span of a single year, played on both the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and Sinatra’s That’s Life. Indeed, it is Melvoin who is the driving force behind this impressive album, serving as producer and arranger, writing all six of the original tracks (including the marvelously Cole Porter-ish “Whatever My Bianca Wants” and a lovely, understated homage to budding romance called “At Last Now”), and backing England with exquisitely elegant and intelligent playing.

In fairness, England rises to the occasion, proving himself far more than just a rock-era holdover as he lends his sandy, somewhat Steve Tyrell-esque voice to the likes of an appropriately bruised “Sophisticated Lady,” a grand “Embraceable You,” and an intriguingly pleading “Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me.”

Originally Published