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Music Review: Johnny Mathis – I’ll Buy You a Star/Live It Up!

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The combination of Johnny Mathis and Nelson Riddle is a natural one, especially given the amount of success Riddle had with the likes of Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. With Mathis being one of the top LP sellers of his day, it was only a matter of time before Riddle and he got to working together.

Collectors’ Choice has released two Riddle/Mathis collaborations with the two-CD set of I’ll Buy You a Star and Live It Up!.

That Mathis and Riddle would tackle a slew of broad, romantic ballads is to be expected. That the results of the collaboration would be swinging, glossy, and stylish was also a given.

With I’ll Buy You a Star, Riddle brings his classic sense for the string backdrop and the big band-ish brass blasts. Mathis brings the voice, hiding none of his excitement and letting loose on fun tracks like the hard-swinging “Ring the Bell” or the sweet, funky “The Best Is Yet to Come.” The upbeat tracks pull inspiration from Mathis’ days jamming with small combos in San Francisco.

Those looking for Riddle’s lush string ballads won’t be disappointed. Mathis’s voice melts like a dream into soothing numbers like the impressive “Warm and Willing” and the magical “Stairway to the Stars.”

Live It Up!, the second collaboration with Riddle and Mathis, appears to be a more careful, deliberate set. The arrangements match Mathis’ voice more, pushing the singer to belt it out to match the swing provided by Riddle and his orchestra. The songs are cool and fast-paced, with large splashes of brass and strings striking breathlessly through the compositions.

Some moments tease the classic string balladry for a second before launching Mathis into a race to the finish with the thundering, larger-than-life instrumental arrangement trotting alongside him. “Just Friends” offers one such moment, with the crooner pulling the rug out from under a windswept ballad to drive the song through in fabulously bold fashion.

“Johnny One Note” puts Mathis in the ring with a colourful, lively Riddle arrangement to prove the singer’s zest. Mathis tackles it like the pro he is, blasting through the thrilling composition with style and finesse.

This two-CD set is an electrifying, enjoyable compilation that’s hard to beat for fans of both Mathis and Riddle. It showcases the singer digging deep into his jazz-pop repertoire to turn out some of the most exciting works of his career and features Riddle doing what he does best with a masterful vocalist. For crisp summer listening, I’ll Buy You a Star and Live It Up! make for a marvellous combo.

About Jordan Richardson