Personnel: Jay Berliner (guitar, banjo); Cynthia Daniels (recorder); Lawrence Feldman (woodwinds); Lee Musiker (piano, keyboards); Peter Donovan (bass instrument); James Saporito (drum, percussion).
Audio Mixer: Cynthia Daniels.
Arrangers: Wally Harper; Eric Stern; Lee Musiker.
Barbara Cook turns to a new musical director in Lee Musiker on Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder, and he gives her some jazzy arrangements, notably in the Dixieland flavor of the leadoff song, the Al Jolson standard "There's a Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder," and the Matty Malneck composition "Love Is Good for Anything That Ails You." But he is equally effective on the plaintive ballads that emphasize his own piano work, such as Peter Allen's "Harbour." As the composer names already mentioned suggest, the album does not have a specific theme or apparent unifying concept, and in fact attempts to bring together songs from very different eras and styles. Thus, Rodgers & Hart ("Where or When"), George and Ira Gershwin ("He Loves and She Loves"), and Burton Lane and E.Y. Harburg ("Old Devil Moon") rub shoulders with Allen, John Bucchino, and Stephen Sondheim, not always harmoniously. The lyricists from the 1920s, '30s, and '40s concern themselves with light romantic verse even when being melancholy, while their successors of more recent decades have weightier and more complicated considerations on their minds. So, for instance, even when Musiker and Eric Stern's arranging abilities are combined on a medley of an unusually slow and thoughtful version of "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" (a song that Fats Waller treated jocularly) with Sondheim's "I Wish I Could Forget You" from the 1994 musical Passion, the songs don't really sit well together; the tone and language are just too different. (The combination of Sondheim's "No More" with Kurt Weill's "Lost in the Stars" works a little better, but not much.) This is despite the determined effort of the timeless Cook, who sings them, and everything else, with a clarity and mastery (and with a powerful yet intimate voice) that belie her age. It might be better to consider Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder as a collection of individual songs, many of which are impressive in isolation, and not worry about how they relate to each other. After all, the hope of any self-respecting lover of American popular song ought to be, simply, that Barbara Cook should get a chance to sing every great standard out there. Here (counting the three two-song medleys) are another dozen and a half of them. May there be (as she promises) many more. ~ William Ruhlmann