Four years ago, primetime animation kingpin Seth MacFarlane put his ardor for the Great American Songbook to the test, uniting with arranger and conductor Joel McNeely to record the breezy Music Is Better Than Words. The polished collection of Tin Pan Alley chestnuts and obscurities netted him a Grammy nomination.
MacFarlane and McNeely subsequently reunited for a platter of Christmas tunes. Though the press materials for this third teaming make no mention that the disc’s arrival coincides with Sinatra’s centenary, the timing can’t be accidental. The blueprint for these 17 tracks is clearly those mid-to-late-’50s classics-Only the Lonely, No One Cares, In the Wee Small Hours-that explored the somber flipside of Sinatra’s ring-a-ding-ding frivolity.
Backed by a wall of brass and a sea of strings, MacFarlane again succeeds admirably-as does McNeely, whose charts estimably echo Nelson Riddle and Gordon Jenkins. While he lacks Sinatra’s raw emotional wallop and more closely mirrors the mellow warmth of Dean Martin, he is no poseur. There’s plenty here from the Sinatra canon (including the title track, a last-minute addition to 1957’s otherwise upbeat A Swingin’ Affair! ). But there’s also ample room for MacFarlane to exercise his archaeological skills, digging up such gems as Cole Porter’s storm-clouded “Goodbye Little Dream Goodbye,” Henry Mancini and Carole Bayer Sager’s sweetly forlorn “Don’t Call It Love” (from the film 10) and, from Camelot, Lerner and Loewe’s wishful “Before I Gaze at You Again.”