August 1999

Bobby Short - You're the Top: Love Songs of Cole Porter
Telarc CD-83463
Released: 1999

by Jim Saxon

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]Among other sensations, art produces nostalgia for that which never happened. While listening to Bobby Short’s latest release, You’re the Top: Love Songs of Cole Porter, I sensed a romantic fantasy remembered rather than realized. I have scant knowledge of the high life Cole Porter wrote about and which Short voices so richly. Yet, by the fourth song of the collection, "You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To," I was drenched in goose bumps remembering how I once wished I could feel -- elegant, sophisticated and in love with a woman of high sensibilities.

Thus, You’re the Top is a trip down a virtual memory lane instead of a real one. Few people have been as worldly-wise as Cole Porter, although 75-year-old Bobby Short comes close. The self-styled "saloon singer" has become Porter’s surrogate. His credibility, earned over a lifetime, makes You’re the Top an almost perfect blend of composition and performance. I say "almost" because some of cuts on the album featuring the smallest big band I’ve ever heard are less than convincing. However, the cabaret settings with two or three players supporting the singer’s crisp baritone are transcendent. The intimate arrangements include shining moments for bass player Frank Tate and saxophonist Loren Shoenberg, both of whom are recorded in a perfect natural perspective.

In fact, I plan to take You’re the Top to the next Consumer Electronics Show to determine which systems can re-create the proper size and texture of acoustic bass and tenor sax. In addition, the dynamic range of Short’s voice will test the resolve of most amplifiers. Anyone who buys this disc expecting to use it as background music will be surprised. The sound of someone performing live in the living is too disconcerting for light work. As soon as I closed the digital transport on You’re the Top, I felt an invisible hand grab my tuxedo lapels and force me to pay attention all the way through. I can’t afford to play this music every day.

Listening to Bobby Short on CD for the first time, I regret never having seen him live at the Café Carlyle. The main reason for skipping out was immaturity. In order to appreciate the songs Short performs, one needs a modicum of life experience and some down time to reflect upon it. Inevitably, I have arrived at a point where the Porter/Short guidebook to mature courtship makes a compelling read Why does it take some people so long to grow up?

I doubt raving about this CD will encourage persons under 40 to purchase it unless they are extremely precocious. This is no grave matter for now. More important is that Short has added another fine collection to the archive of adult pop music one can browse when one is ready. I look forward to Bobby Short’s next Cole Porter recording. There are still so many memories to be relived for the first time.