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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Monica Mancini - I've Loved These Days

Monica Mancini - I've Loved These Days
2010, Concord Records

Even if you're talented in your own right, it never hurts to have a famous mom or dad. Monica Mancini has long since escaped the filial shadow, amassing an impressive body of work over the years between studio work and appearances on countless movie scores over the years, but she got her start in her dad's The Henry Mancini Chorus. Over the years Mancini has recorded with artists such as Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson and Placido Domingo, and she has sung with symphonies the world over. Mancini's latest studio effort, I've Loved These Days is a collection of highly refined cover songs and features guest appearances from Brian Wilson, Jackson Browne, Take 6, Stevie Wonder and Felix Cavaliere. With production by none other than Phil Ramone and Gregg Field, I've Loved These Days greets the world steeped in impeccable sound and taste.

I've Loved These Days opens with Jackson Browne's "These Days", with Browne sitting in on vocals and guitar. Mancini offers up an interpretation that is both honest and reserved, like a quiet conversation with an old friend. Mancini's is one of those voices that wraps itself around you and welcomes you like family; not flashy but warm and full of life. Brian Wilson and Take 6 sit in on the Beach Boys' classic "God Only Knows". Mancini is superb, but the true highlight is when all of the voices merge in harmony, creating some heavenly atmospherics in the process. Mancini's take on Paul Simon's "American Tune" (the first of two Simon tunes on the album) is inspired; her mildly understated delivery dovetailing perfectly with the highly thoughtful poetry Simon provides.

Stevie Wonder sits in on harmonica for "Blame It On The Sun", a song he wrote and originally performed with Syreeta Wright. Mancini's take here is genuine and fresh, full of a wistfulness that is palpable. "Without Him" (Harry Nilsson) finds Mancini opening up the dynamic range a tad, showing flashes of the performer she is on stage. Felix Cavaliere sits in on Hammond B-3 for his "How Can I Be Sure", a song full of trepidation and a solid mix of love and on-going heartbreak. Mancini shows more of her dramatic side here, getting inside of the song like it came from her own heart. The Beatles classic "I'll Follow The Sun" is presented in Muzak format, and Mancini does justice to the vocal line, but Shelly Berg's arrangement is just too passive to match the song's heart.

On "Ballad Of The Sad Young Men", Mancini sounds more like a classic chanteuse, offering up a sleepy but heartfelt lullaby for all who have seen better days. "Something So Right" (Paul Simon) finds Mancini at her best; quiet and reserved but with real energy that speaks of emotion and intellect. You might guess that Mancini connects with Simon's work on a personal level from the two selections offered here. Mancini's take on Billy Joel's "I've Loved These Days" comes off sounding like a quiet soliloquy from a Broadway show. Where Joel's original is a reminiscence from someone who started at the bottom and made it to the top, Mancini's is a bit too refined to be believable in the same context. Nevertheless, Mancini quietly bowls you over with her vocal performance, and the song works in spite of the dichotomy. Mancini closes with Janis Ian's "Joy", a thoroughly heartfelt rendition that even the most severe Ian fan would approve of.

From the airbrushed cover photo right down to the last meticulously crafted and produced note, I've Loved These Days has been perfected and polished to immaculate proportions. This turns out to be the one complaint about the album. Everything here is so finely crafted that you lose sight of what a great performer Mancini really is. I've Loved These Days is exceptional, most likely a Grammy nominee before all is said and done, but it would be nice to have heard Mancini tackle these songs in a less scripted recording environment. Considering some of the people involved in this project, and the wonderful textures and nuances of Mancini's voice, what is highly refined and polished might have become magical.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Monica Mancini at I've Loved These Days drops on June 15, 2010. You can pre-order a copy through Amazon.

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