After Johnny Mathis finished his 3-year contract with Mercury Records, he returned to Columbia and retained full creative control over his music. Upon his return, Mathis knew he needed to knock ‘em dead with a matchless record that would hold true to the romantic notions the crooner was famous for.
Collectors’ Choice has gathered two records from Mathis’ return to Columbia with the two-disc set of Up, Up and Away and Love Is Blue.
Up, Up and Away, released originally in 1967, isn’t quite the breezy record that the title might suggest. Sure, it features a decent rendition of the Jimmy Webb title track, but the majority of Up is built on Mathis’ precise, eloquent work with sweeping ballads.
One of the great things about Mathis’ voice is that he infuses it with something that almost resembles a sense of darkness. There’s something bleak and desperate about the way he tackles “The More I See You” and abducts it from the poppy sensitivities of Chris Montez’s treatment, choosing instead to take it to the basement in a manner that the Phantom would be proud of.
No matter how idyllic some of the arrangements get on Up, Up and Away, Mathis’ voice deepens the tones and draws out emotional connection. Listen as he takes the lower notes in Leslie Bricusse’s “Where Are the Words” and bends them ever-so-slightly while he climbs the scales to a heavenly set of high notes.
Love Is Blue was released in 1968 and entered a music market dominated by the Brits and by Motown. Pop singers were relegated to doing cover records and taking established standards to new levels, so Mathis played ball with the best of them. Love Is Blue, one such cover record, reached the top of the charts in the U.S. and stayed there for five weeks, proving that a talent like Mathis could still reach for the top in changing times.