Personnel: Bobby Short (vocals, piano); Bobby Short; William Roy (piano); Beverly Peer (bass instrument); Richard Sheridan (drums).
Audio Mixer: Lewis Hahn.
Recording information: Atlantic Recording, New York, NY (1972).
Photographer: Joel Brodsky.
Arrangers: Bobby Short; William Roy.
At a time when major record labels were dispensing with the services of a generation of middle-of-the-road performers, Atlantic Records, having renewed its association with cabaret singer Bobby Short, commissioned him to record a double LP (later a single, 61-minute CD) of the songs of No?l Coward. The match-up was, of course, ideal, as even Coward himself acknowledged in a brief sleeve note. If any non-Britisher could bring out the best in Coward's caustic wit and clipped romantic notions, it was Short. As usual, he brought to bear his piano and, on most tunes, his rhythm section of Beverly Peer (bass) and Richard Sheridan. (On a handful of songs, William Roy spelled him at the piano.) Short may have been mad about Coward, but he was not interested in covering "Mad About the Boy" or many of Coward's other best-known songs; also missing were "I'll Follow My Secret Heart" and "Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out in the Midday Sun" (maybe the latter was just too British). "If Love Were All" (arguably Coward's signature song), "A Room with a View," "Poor Little Rich Girl," and "I'll See You Again" were present, but Short seemed to take greater delight in unearthing lesser known songs from such shows as Sigh No More ("Matelot," "Nina," "Never Again," "Wait a Bit, Joe") and Words and Music ("The Younger Generation," "Something to Do with Spring"). Of course, what mattered on disc, as it did in the cozy confines of the Cafe Carlyle, was the marriage of those intricate melodies to those clever words, all played and sung brilliantly by Short. The funny numbers like "Nina" (a tango about a woman who hated to dance), "Imagine the Duchess' Feelings" (her youngest son became a Communist!), "Josephine" (Napoleon's wife), and "Let's Fly Away" (yes, a Cole Porter song, but with new '50s lyrics by Coward) were immediate standouts, but Short also gave tremendous feeling to the more wistful songs such as "World Weary," which he was re-recording here. Whatever its commercial prospects in 1972, a 20-song collection of Bobby Short performing his favorite No?l Coward songs was a great idea, beautifully executed. ~ William Ruhlmann