Picks and Pans Review: The Songs of Johnny Mercer

UPDATED 04/27/1981 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 04/27/1981 at 01:00 AM EDT

Susannah McCorkle

Lyricist Mercer died in 1976, one of the geniuses of popular music; the songs graced by his bright, inventive and often intricate words included That Old Black Magic, Blues in the Night, Laura, Jeepers Creepers, Something's Gotta Give and Lazybones. He could not have asked for a better interpreter than McCorkle, 35, a California-born jazz singer with a complex and innovative style of her own. An Italian literature major at Berkeley, she developed a following in London after five years as a translator in Europe, but now spends most of her time playing East Coast cabarets, singing Sedaka and Joel as well as Porter and Gershwin. She has a graceful, Billie Holiday-like way of floating off with a note, then slipping it gently back into the melody. She also displays an expressive touch with a lyric that can refresh Mercer standbys like Fools Rush In or One for My Baby. Spritely and coy doing his My New Celebrity Is You ("I swooned at Mia Farrow/Angular and narrow/Drove a Pierce-Arrow/To a Gatsby preview"), she is backed throughout this marvelous album by a group of British jazz musicians, notably saxman Danny Moss and trumpeter Digby Fairweather. In all, McCorkle performs 14 Mercer songs—wisely omitting about the only clinker of his career, the sappily commercial Moon River.

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