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Harry Connick Jr.: Songs I Heard

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Making like a hepster Raffi in the midst of a Bourbon Street all-nighter, Harry Connick Jr., on the thoroughly oddball Songs I Heard, covers 16 seminal sing-alongs from classic kiddie flicks. From “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” to “Oompa Loompa” to “Merry Old Land of Oz,” Connick, fronting a horn-happy big band and crafting some unexpected arrangements, seriously swings here and tackles his playful task without a hint of irony. But after listening to the especially rambunctious “A Spoonful of Sugar,” which breaks down into a free-form New Orleans stomp-or the tricky meter of “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead”-you have to wonder just who exactly this album is intended for. Jazz yups looking for a kitschy good time? Children of jazz yups who might puke from one more spin of the Barney songbook? Connick’s intention is no doubt a hearty helping of all-ages entertainment, but I’m thinking the novelty of this puzzling but good-natured disc will wear off for (and wear down) listeners both young and old after a few listens. Plus the idea of Oompa Loompas cavorting in Preservation Hall is just plain creepy.

Connick is in a far more grown-up state of mind on 30, where he’s still covering the classics that have shaped his 34 years but has thankfully shed the Willy Wonka vibe. With Songs I Heard’s big-band boys over the rainbow and probably in a bar somewhere, the tunes here are mainly handled by Connick and his solo-piano stylings. Say what you will about Connick’s jazz-for-beginners commercial rep, but the guy’s clever energy on the ivories can’t be denied. The disc kicks off with a killer one-two punch, with the oh-so-pretty piano man pounding the hell out of Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin'” and Harry Warren’s “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” Connick has always shined brightest when he’s making music to smooch to. And there isn’t a finer nookie-guarantee than 30’s lovely closer, “I’ll Only Miss Her (When I Think of Her),” which features Wynton Marsalis on both trumpet and, magnificently so, piano.

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