Picks and Pans Review: Mary Martin Sings, Richard Rodgers Plays

updated 10/15/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/15/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Mary Martin and Richard Rodgers

Oh, what a beautiful morning, or perhaps some enchanted evening. That kind of thing is what you have in store, depending on what time of day you play these two fine releases that celebrate composer Richard Rodgers and his lyricists. Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein.

The Clooney album (Concord) may well be her finest, and that's going some. Her mellifluous, warm contralto has never sounded more relaxed and sure of itself. Clooney doesn't belt or do vocal cartwheels. She just sings, backed by five musicians and. on five selections, the L.A. Jazz Choir. With the grace and elegance of an Art Deco-ocean liner, Clooney charts a smooth, shimmering course through 12 Richard Rodgers songs, including such standards as "It Might as Well Be Spring," "I Could Write a Book" and "The Gentleman Is a Dope." along with such lesser-known tunes as "Little Girl Blue" and the haunting "Love, Look Away." Rosie's clearly the strong but benevolent captain of this ship, allowing her musical crew to take a satisfying number of turns at the wheel. The highlight of this album of highlights is Clooney's six-minute-plus rendition of "The Sweetest Sounds." with a soaring tenor-sax bridge by Scott Hamilton. Irresistible too is her playful, sexy vocal duet with trumpeter Jack Sheldon on "People Will Say We're in Love," reminiscent of the classic Ray Charles-Betty Carter version. Clooney has that rare combination of vocal technique, musical taste, enthusiasm and heart. And like the songs she sings here, she's getting better with age.

Anyone who comes away from the Mar-tin-Rodgers album (RCA) saying "I'm flying" won't be talking about fairy dust.

In 1957 close friends Martin and Rodgers recorded this album, which has just been rechanneled onto compact disc. Backed only by violin, flute and Rodgers at the piano. Martin sings 12 of the composer's songs, some well known, some obscure. This album presents Martin, who is famous as a Broadway star with a big. sunflowery voice, in a slightly different light. She sounds almost like a "30s big-band singer.

Martin pays special homage to Rodgers's lyricists, Hart and Hammerstein, the former being as cynical as the latter was romantic. Hart's "You're Nearer" and Hammerstein's "You Are Never Away" provide two variations on a theme. Martin sings the usually dropped verse from Hart's "There's a Small Hotel" and, removing herself from her sweet Sound of Music character, Maria von Trapp, sings Hart's "To Keep My Love Alive," the wickedly funny ballad of a woman who kills her husbands. ("Sir Peter had an incongruity/ Collecting girls with promiscuity/ Now I'm collecting his annuity.")

Without pretense and with little production, Martin and Rodgers provide an intimate musical outing. Listening to them makes you feel like a fortunate guest at a once-in-a-lifetime party.

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