With the timbre of his voice sounding more Sinatra-ish than ever, Harry Connick, Jr. isn’t just the chairman of the board on True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter. The famously multitalented singer, pianist, and actor wrote the arrangements for the top-notch 16-piece Los Angeles studio band featured on all 13 tracks. He also conducted the ensemble, and on the three songs that add a 24-piece string orchestra, he wrote the orchestrations too.
It’s an impressive effort on every level, even if it’s hard to shake the feeling that True Love is also a missed opportunity. While Connick’s abundant vocal charisma ignites all the humor, lust, and romance coursing through Porter’s best-loved songs, he’s content to skim the cream off of an expansive pool. Adding several less immediately recognizable numbers could have made this more than a usual-suspects roundup. Connick does tap into the largely neglected score for the mediocre 1956 film High Society (a treasure nonetheless for prominently featuring Louis Armstrong and his band), which yields the album’s two least-known songs, “You’re Sensational” and the deservedly obscure “Mind If I Make Love to You?,” a swooning Porter melody with a lyric that hasn’t aged well.
There are other rewards here. Throughout the album, the sequencing provides a satisfying mix of swaggering up-tempo arrangements and simmering ballads. Opening with a delightful romp through “Anything Goes” that skips the verse and includes several alternative lines I’d never heard, Connick creates consistently smart settings for the standards. His creeping-fog tempo on “All of You” seems to revel in the song’s … well, it has to be said … stalker-ish creepiness, as the swelling brass accentuates the list of obsessive desires. And the jaunty take on “I Love Paris” evokes a scene of Connick dancing in front of the Eiffel Tower as a clarinet solo signals a pan across the Champs-Élysées.
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