The world has become crowded with crooners and divas, all climbing over each other to cover compositions from the American songbook. It’s well traveled ground: the same handful of songs by Cole Porter, Harold Arlen and others has long been the staple of iconic singers such as Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Yes, classic numbers like Porter’s “Night and Day” and Arlen’s “Stormy Weather” have stood the test of time and numerous interpretations. But where are the new songs for the current wave of jazz singers and pop vocalists? Nowhere to be found.
With this collection, Murray McLauchlan has helped to fill that void. After an illustrious career as an award-winning folk and country artist, popular TV and radio host, acclaimed author and Order of Canada recipient, McLauchlan has bravely ventured into new territory. Having grown up influenced by his brother’s love of jazz and show tunes, he revisited those roots and wrote Eddie, a musical, which debuted in Quebec in the spring of 2004. The 14 songs on The Songbook – New Arrivals are drawn from that auspicious stage creation. Universal expressions of love and loss, they are superb additions to the jazz-pop songbook that would comfortably fit the repertoires of singers like Matt Dusk and Diana Krall.
Eddie is the bittersweet tale of Eddie Stayner, a lounge singer and songwriter from small-town Canada, whose rise and fall is shared with his tough-talking, cigar-chomping manager and his loyal accompanist, an enigmatic character known only as Piano Man. At the heart of the story—and the source of some of its finest songs—is Eddie’s tumultuous love affair with brazen Betty Sparling, herself an ambitious nightclub singer. In the original stage production, Adam James, a Montreal singer-actor who had previously appeared in several Sinatra revues, sang the majority of the songs. But critics reserved their highest praise for McLauchlan’s compositions themselves.
Here, McLauchlan tackles these bluesy ballads, swinging pop, slow shuffles and even a peppy, Latin-tinged tune himself with admirable panache. Working with arrangements by pianist Mark Hukezalie, he conveys a convincing swoon on romantic numbers like “Love Just Can’t Tell Time” and “Fallin’ in Love,” a harmony-drenched duet with Canadian songbird Cindy Church, who also delivers the assertive “I Never Will Marry,” co-written with stage star Cynthia Dale. McLauchlan’s playful ode to cocktail perfection on “My Martini,” co-written with his brother, Calvin, and his spirited delivery of “The Luckiest Guy” are stand-out tracks that you can almost hear Michael Bublé singing. The cautionary “When You’re at the Top” and the humorous “Break My Fall” are both equally infectious. Two of the most memorable cuts are also the most downbeat numbers: the melancholic “What’s Goin’ On With You” and the reflective “The Second Half of Life,” which feels tailor-made for Tony Bennett.
McLauchlan doesn’t pretend to be a jazz singer. He set out to write a collection of pop songs in the tradition of the American songbook and perform them with jazz-style accompaniment. As it turns out, they rank alongside some of his best compositions. His folk and country music fans should embrace this daring stylistic turn. By shifting into a new genre, McLauchlan has proven his versatility as a composer and created a bold new songbook for the future.