Clint Eastwood, who in 1971 incorporated footage from the Monterey Jazz Festival into his film directorial debut ("Play Misty For Me"), has released a Johnny Mercer songbook to accompany the current box-office hit set in Savannah and centered around a true-life murder that took place in the Mercer House. Established in 1860 by Mercer's great grandfather, General Hugh Mercer, the mansion sits in the center of a picturesque section of Savannah, and easily conveys visually the mood intended for much of Mercer's musical work. The film, which includes legendary saxophonist James Moody in a minor role as William Simon Glover walking his invisible dog, is represented on this recording by several songs from the soundtrack, several from the actors, and several that simply convey a similar aura of Southern simplicity and charm.
Naturally, as with any Johnny Mercer songbook, the spotlight is on the vocalists. The two instrumental tracks on this session are "Dream" with pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, and "I'm an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande)," featuring tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman with the same trio. Mehldau, 28, proves that his building reputation is warranted; early influences such as McCoy Tyner, Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans, and Keith Jarrett remain a part of his profile, but Mehldau's blues-influenced sound is clearly his own.
Eastwood's lovely daughter Alison co-stars in the film as Mandy Nichols, who sings "Come Rain or Come Shine" with the members of Charlie Haden's Quartet West (pianist Alan Broadbent, bassist Haden, drummer Larance Marable, and tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts). Clint Eastwood, whose own singing experience includes the 1963 full-length LP "Rawhide's Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites" for Cameo Records and the 1984 single "Make My Day" with T.G. Sheppard, sings "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive," lightening up the session a bit.
Independent of genre, the ballads presented on this recording come from singers with varying backgrounds. k.d. lang presents "Skylark" both in the film and on the recording. Paula Cole sings "Autumn Leaves" with an interwoven accordion mood provided by Domenic Cortese and outstanding solo acoustic guitar work from Marc Antoine. Alison Krauss also stands with the members of Charlie Haden's Quartet West for a rendition of "This Time the Dream's On Me."
With support from Josh Redman, Cassandra Wilson's low contralto voice seems a perfect match for "Days of Wine and Roses." Likewise, Diana Krall's "Midnight Sun" is pared down and quite romantic. Kevin Spacey sings "That Old Black Magic" with the same amicable diction that he uses as the lead actor in the film; Lennie Niehaus' arrangement suits him well, and features an outstanding trumpet solo from Warren Luening. Not from the motion picture, but certainly appropriate for the story is Rosemary Clooney's offering of "Fools Rush In" with Broadbent, Haden, and a string section in support. A 1962 recording of "I Wanna Be Around" by Tony Bennett is featured in the film and closes out the recording. Taken as a whole, Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture "Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil" is quite suitable as a partner for the film and offers additional variety for the listener.