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Brook Benton came up with the concept of Songs I Love To Sing while recovering in the hospital from an illness. He wanted to record an album of songs that in his estimation were among the best ever written, and recruited his collaborator Clyde Otis to write the charts. This was quite a departure for Benton and Otis, who prior to this album had achieved success with a handful of rhythm and blues singles, and probably no one predicted the wonderful music that would emerge from the departure.
What resulted is an album of gorgeously rendered standards that sound remarkably similar to Nat King Cole’s work for Capitol, a testament to the genre hopping abilities of the creators. All the ingredients for lush romanticism are in place on this 1960 release: sweeping strings, English horns and harps, and Benton’s burnished vocals, lavish with perfect pitch and gentle vibrato. Beautiful melody after beautiful melody gently unfold over the course of the album, and Benton wisely chooses songs that are vaguely familiar, yet not worn thin. “Moonlight In Vermont” gets a rare vocal treatment, and “Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear To Tread)” managed to crack the Top 25 with its dreamy and airy presentation.
However, a little of this style of music goes a long way, especially without the company of a member of the opposite sex close at hand, and Songs I Love To Sing is recommended more as the backdrop to an intimate evening rather than a disc that demands close listening. Usually when pop singers attempt an album of standards, one gets the sense of an artist who hasn’t done justice to the body of work he attempts. Benton proves that great singing is great singing, no matter what the genre.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.