I don't review many albums by singers these days, but I couldn't pass up a tribute to Matt Dennis, one of the most talented and sadly neglected songwriters of the Twentieth Century. Before scoffing, remember "Angel Eyes," "Will You Still Be Mine," "Everything Happens to Me," "Violets for Your Furs," "Let's Get Away from It All," "Show Me the Way to Get Out of This World" and "The Night We Called It a Day." All were written by Dennis, who sang them (and others) for many years in nightclubs across the country while accompanying himself at the piano.
To Mary Foster Conklin's credit, she doesn't rest her case on these familiar melodies but has unearthed a cache of other forgotten treasures with lyrics by Sammy Cahn, Bobby Troup, Ted Steele, Jerry Gladstone and Ginny Dennis, and performs a duet with Cuban artist David Oquendo on "Encanto d'Amor," Dennis/David Gillam's "It Wasn't the Stars That Thrilled Me" translated into Spanish by Oquendo. Among the others, Dennis/Steele's "That Tired Routine Called Love" is especially clever, right up there with Rodgers and Hart's "Everything I've Got Belongs to You," Lerner and Loewe's "How Can Love Survive," any Cole Porter lyric, and Dennis/Tom Adair's "Let's Get Away" and "Will You Still Be Mine."
Conklin's midrange voice is sweet and expressive, her articulation clean, and she caresses each lyric with notable warmth and perception. She's not quite as irresistible as Dennis himself, but few singers, no matter how adept, have ever equaled his offhanded charm. The backup group is splendid, with pianist John di Martino doubling as arranger and saxophonist Joel Frahm making brief but welcome appearances on three tracks. Dennis/Troup's "Where Am I to Go?" is a graceful duet with guitarist Tony Romano. Conklin also sings the seldom-heard verses to "Angel Eyes," "Will You Still Be Mine" and (spoken) "The Night We Called It a Day."
Conklin deserves applause for breathing life into such moribund classics as "Before the Show," "Spring Isn't Spring Anymore," "Blues for Breakfast," "Let's Just Pretend," "Learn to Love" and the other songs already cited. The album is worth hearing for them alone, even more so for Conklin's earnest and caring interpretations. Even for those who thought they knew Matt Dennis, it should be a real eye-opener.