The third volume in singer Hughie Mac’s trilogy of American big band and pop standards, Hughie Mac Sings Some Great Songs Part 3, is a mammoth collection spanning nearly the entirety of 20th century popular music filtered through his unique interpretation of the material. Mac has admirable fearlessness – he can move from Cole Porter to The Eagles without blinking and invests wildly disparate material with an equal amount of passion and comfort. The collection leans more towards the big band songwriting and crooner hits, particularly Sinatra, and he’s accompanied by fully fleshed out arrangements honoring the originals, but never too reverentially. The album is, unquestionably, an independently produced affair, but the quality is undisputable.
Mac’s voice is an ideal fit for the tasteful orchestration of “It’s Impossible” and he coaxes out each syllable of the lyrical content with the sort of artistry we expect from a performing veteran. His voice has primacy in the mix, but the arrangement never takes too much of a back seat to his singing. These stalwart tracks find new life through Mac’s vocal – he has a considered, tempered manner that’s all his own of tackling the material. “Baby, the Rain Must Fall” has a busier tempo than the aforementioned track and Mac does a top shelf job of matching the musical energy without ever sacrificing any of his phrasing talents to make it work. The robust arrangement is one of the album’s early highlights.
Another of the early highlights on Hughie Mac Sings Some Great Songs Pr. 3, “The Lady is a Tramp”, finds Mac in a truly inspired mode. You can palpably sense his genuine affection for the tune and Sinatra coming through on every line and the arrangement serves him well with its romping swing. We get a bit of three a.m. barroom blues with the song “That’s All” and Mac fills his voice with smoky regret that treats the lyrics with the necessary respect without ever reducing the tune to the musical equivalent of a butterfly pinned under glass. The same melancholy feeling pervades “Losing You” and the easy amble of Mac’s voice neatly dovetails into the arrangement without ever sounding forced.
“You Make Me Feel So Young”, one of the album’s better known tunes even today, receives a particularly inspired treatment from Mac. Much of this is thanks to another attentive and measured vocal treatment from Mac – he keys in to the song’s joyous mood without ever over-exerting. He delivers a strong performance with the Neil Diamond penned pop classic “Cracklin’ Rosie” with a vocal that, for me, is an improvement on the histrionics we hear in Diamond’s original. Mac consistently reins in the excesses common to other similar interpreters and this approach pays off regardless of what material he tackles on this album. The rambunctious piano and overall band performance for the Jim Croce classic “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” locks into Croce’s storytelling strengths and never strains them in an effort to highlight his voice at the expense of the songwriting. Hughie Mac is determined to entertain listeners with this latest entry in his own American songbook and succeeds in a big way.
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