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CD Review: Barry Manilow – The Greatest Songs of the Fifties

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Covering other artists is never easy. For some, it can really hurt your career: just ask Pat Boone. And covering songs that have been loved for decades can be a particular challenge: how do you cover something like “Unchained Melody”, simultaneously making it your own while ensuring fans of the original do not hate you for destroying their song?

Barry Manilow seems to have done just that. This CD is the first Manilow offering to debut at #1 on the charts. The CD has sold 155,630 copies in its first week of release, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. But what about the music?

The CD starts off strong with “Moments to Remember.” This sounds like Manilow’s Broadway album – very slow and rich. “It’s All in the Game” is an interesting choice, but he makes the doo-wop ballad his own. And “It’s Not For Me To Say” will have you looking around for a dance partner with its smooth vocals and big band accompaniment.

My first concern was with “Unchained Melody.” I heard him sing it live on “Dancin’ With the Stars” and was not impressed with the performance, but the version on the CD is much better. There are, of course, the requisite Barry Manilow modulations, but they’re not overdone.

I wondered who did the arrangement for “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing,” because there is a backbeat that reminds me more of Gene Autry or Roy Rodgers than Barry Manilow. I had trouble liking this song: there is an expectation when you listen to this song, and the arrangement, while perfect for Manilow, doesn’t do justice to the song.

Barry overpowers Phyllis McGuire on their duet “Sincerely”, even when he’s supposed to be more in the background. By the time they begin “Teach Me Tonight,” though, it’s much more ballanced.

I was also concerned with “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” I grew up listening to Elvis sing this song. (No, I’m not that old; my parents had Elvis albums galore). While it’s not Elvis, the song works. In fact, it sounds even more plaintive and sad than when the King sang it. This song is the perfect example of Manilow taking a song and really making it his own, as is “Young At Heart.” In that song, you really feel that he is singing about himself; you can even hear a slight strain in his voice.

On the whole, this is an album that even folks who aren’t fans of Barry Manilow (like me – I got this one for my wife, who is a huge fan) are going to enjoy. The covers are accessible, with a few exceptions that I’ve noted, but the style is Barry Manilow enough that his fans won’t be disappointed.

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