Inspired by the traditional New Orleans jazz he absorbed as a child, Harry Connick Jr. does schmaltzy standards like no other. While his jazzy stylings may not be suited for Broadway (“Thou Shalt Not,” his collaborative effort with Tony-award winning director Susan Stroman, is currently being pummeled by the critics), his heritage infuses a lively Mardi Gras flavor to his newest two albums. The first of these simultaneously released albums is Songs I Heard, a heartfelt celebration of the movies that influenced him as a child. Whether simply singing or playing solo on the piano, he innovatively covers childhood favorites from The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, Annie and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with an effervescent twist. He opens with a swinging Big Band arrangement of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and culminates in an enthralling jam session to, of all things, the song “Do Re Mi.” In between, Connick demonstrates a free-spirited maturity with his clever interpretations of the “Oompa Loompa Song” and “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead,” and sails through “A Spoonful of Sugar” with a bouncy, as well as surprising, harmonic depth. Following in the tradition of Miles Davis’ cover of “Someday My Prince Will Come,” Connick demonstrates that kiddie-pop isn’t just for the children.
Although released four years too late, 30 is Connick’s latest addition to his repertoire of albums named for the age he recorded them (Eleven, 20, 25). Natural and inspired, tracks such as his cover of Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin’”display Connick’s smooth vocalizing backed solely by his own adroit self-accompaniment. As usual, the singer-pianist invites several guests to perform with him, and 30 is no exception; one of the album’s highlights is trumpeter Wynton Marsalis’ tasty solo and obligato on “I’ll Only Miss Her (When I Think of Her”). With his characteristic second-line rhythms and playful melodies adding a little vibe on the classics, Connick is in full swing with both 30 and Songs I Heard.
Harry Connick Jr.
Songs I Heard / 30