For the aging pop star, there are several ways to fend off a midlife crisis: (1) buy a Porsche; (2) date a supermodel; or (3) record an album of tasteful standards. The final choice seems to be the most popular of late, as artists like Rod Stewart dip into the Great American Songbook. Even Cyndi Lauper and Queen Latifah are getting into the lounge act. But does a lifetime of grunting ”Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” prepare a spiky-haired rebel for the difficult melodic twists of the classic pop repertoire? We decided to take the question to an expert: specifically, esteemed pianist and cabaret singer Michael Feinstein, who just released ”Only One Life: The Songs of Jimmy Webb.” Without identifying the performer, we played Feinstein cuts from current and upcoming supper-club discs by Stewart, soul man Aaron Neville, and R&B legend Ronald Isley – and asked him to critique their interpretations.
RONALD ISLEY ”Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” from ”Here I Am: Isley Meets Bacharach.” ”This is the kind of song that if I never heard it again, I wouldn’t mind, because I used to have to play it in piano bars over and over and over…. This [version] is beautiful, because it makes me enjoy hearing this song again. Sometimes you have to completely reinterpret and reinvent something, and that’s what he does. It’s very sexy, and it’s gorgeous…. It’s definitely an album that’s going to be great, umm, wooing music.”
ROD STEWART ”I Only Have Eyes for You,” from ”As Time Goes By…The Great American Songbook Volume II.” ”First of all, I love Rod Stewart’s voice, it’s iconic. But it sounds to me like he’s singing along with a Muzak track. It sounds like karaoke…. He hits the wrong note! And he’s leaving out important notes from the song. There’s a difference between interpretation choice and singing a wrong note. If I’m going to listen to ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’ there are other places I would turn.”
AARON NEVILLE ”Our Love Is Here to Stay,” from ”Nature Boy: The Standards Album.” ”It sounds like he has a built-in echo! [Laughs] That’s great, fantastic! He takes very gentle liberties with the song, but he does it very simply. That’s having confidence. This is going to do very well.”