Barry Manilow. The Greatest Songs of The Seventies. Put them together and what do you get?
Well, apart from Barry Manilow singing the greatest songs of the Seventies - apparently there were 14, by the way, 23 if you include Mr Manilow's own era-defining contributions - you find yourself thinking that the decade of Glam Rock and the sickly saccharine ballad actually wasn't that bad as far as quality songs go. Which may surprise, if not un-nerve, some listeners.
Even more astonishing, however, will be the revelation that on this most unexpected of Proustian exercises, you suddenly find yourself quietly marvelling at the sheer (and occasionally sublime) artistry of a musician who not so long ago was the brunt of much sneering and dismissive disdain among informed musos and, for that matter, practically everybody else.
I say unexpected, but given that this trip down musical memory lane was preceded by The Greatest Songs of The Fifties and The Greatest Songs of The Sixties, a return to the decade that launched Manilow's own career could possibly have been predicted without the aid of a darkened room and a Ouija board.
But however contrived the concept might be, the end result is something that happily exceeds expectation and goes some considerable way towards convincing the listener that the material is worth revisiting. Manilow's performances go well beyond mere homage to the kind of new-minted freshness that shows him to be an eloquent and endlessly nuanced musician.
This is an impeccably delivered package (by far the most successful of the series), with Manilow always respectful of the original material, the new arrangements unfailingly elegant and smoothly executed. So you'll find a bombast-free 'The Way We Were', a nocturne-like 'Solitaire' full of brittle beauty, a diaphanous rendition of 'If' and a perfectly proportioned 'Long And Winding Road' infused with aching yearning.
And surrounding those, standards by Simon & Garfunkel, The Carpenters, Elton John, Carole King ('You've Got A Friend' in a captivating duet with Melissa Manchester), among others, all of which are delivered with a consummate ease and unerring musicality.
A more than pleasant bonus is the four acoustic versions of Manilow classics, with 'Mandy' full of sweet sincerity, 'Weekend in New England' blissfully bittersweet and 'Copacana' suddenly revealed to be an altogether sassy and sexy proposition.
For those who love Manilow, this is a must. For those who don't, this could well be the disc to make them change their minds. --Michael Quinn
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