There’s always something incredibly nostalgic and heartwarming about the classic jazz crooner. For someone like me, who was never alive to experience the golden days of artists like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and the rest of the gang, I can still draw nostalgia from my memories of sitting by the fire in my family home, listening to such tunes from my father’s (and grandmother’s) record collection. Today, the vocal tradition is carried on by notable greats such as Josh Groban and Michael Bublé, but the man who kicked off the modern era of contemporary vocal music surely has to be Harry Connick, Jr.
Harry Connick, Jr. is a man of many talents, or voices, rather. He has just released his latest album, Every Man Should Know, and he takes on the personality of many different characters throughout the record. Granted, all of these characters are the same person – himself – but they represent his person in different situations and stages of life. When talking about the meaning behind the album, Connick says, “I used to be more comfortable writing in a fantasy-style concept, using ideas that intrigued me but didn’t necessarily come from personal experience. It’s one thing to assume the role of a storyteller – it’s quite another when the story is your own. I felt ready to explore some of my personal experiences in some of the songs this time around.”
Song topics range from heartbreak to his love for his wife, Jill, from dealing with terminal illness to struggling with self-identity. It’s definitely a work that comes straight from the heart. You might wonder what exactly it is that makes this album any different than another songwriter’s work, though. Doesn’t everyone talk about similar topics in their lyrics? Well yes, they do, but the main difference here is that Connick distinguishes his sound through the grooves and instrumentation. For example, “The Greatest Love Story,” which addresses his relationship with his wife, features a pedal steel guitar to bring forth the indigenous culture of Texas, from where she hails. “I Love Her” is not just another love ballad; it’s heavy bossa nova influence transports you to an small, intimate Brazilian jazz club from decades past.
Each song on Every Man Should Know constructs a distinct reality around the lyrics. Here lies the key to the successful songwriter – it’s not just about the words. Music is the language through which we all communicate on the most primal level, so it is essential the instrumental elements of each song augment the vocal sections.
Most people will probably recognize the name Harry Connick, Jr. as a prominent jazz musician. Others may think of him as more of a contemporary pop artist. The beauty of this record is not that it focuses on any one of these personas individually, but rather that it gives each style its equal share. We hear elements of pop, jazz, R&B, Latin, and gospel music throughout the twelve tracks on Every Man Should Know. As a result, we see the full picture of the man we’ve come to know and love over the years, displayed transparently with his heart and soul exposed.
And what is there to say about his voice? It’s clear from the first words out of his mouth that he has been blessed with an extraordinary gift. His voice is silky and smooth, weaving in between melodies with grace. By making subtle alterations to his tone throughout the record, he is able to perfectly match the vibes of country, soft jazz, and powerful gospel music. He exchanges runs with Branford Marsalis’s soprano saxophone on “Let Me Stay,” and sets the mood with a low, sultry voice on “One Fine Thing.”
Although the man’s golden age may have been back in the early ’90s, he certainly shows no signs of slowing down. Every Man Should Know holds up just as strongly in the face of his impressive history of work. Whether you are a longtime Connick fan or if you’ve never heard a single song of his, this album deserves your attention. It’s easy listening, to be sure, but it’s originality and musicianship does not suffer as a result.