If getting your kicks on “Route 66” is the first thing you think of when you hear the name Bobby Troup, The Songs of Bobby Troup, the title of Bethlehem Records’ newly reissued 1955 album, may be very misleading. Known especially as a talented songwriter as well as a singer, one would expect the songs of Bobby Troup to be songs that the singer had written, not songs written by others. Indeed a quick check of the Troup discography would seem to indicate that the album may have been originally released under the title Bobby Troup Sings Johnny Mercer. If the title is misleading, the album itself is not disappointing.
Troup’s singing embodies West Coast cool, characterized by his crystal clear phrasing and carefully laid-back vibe. That the album has him working his magic on Mercer standards (with only one exception) rather than his own tunes gives listeners the opportunity to consider the quality of his performance separate from the quality of the material. There are, after all, songwriters aplenty who’d do better to keep their mouths shut. Troup is one songwriter who can sing, and not only sing, but he plays some mean piano as well.
The set opens with Mercer-light, a kind of throwaway tune called “Cuckoo in the Clock,” pleasant enough, but nothing particularly memorable. Troup gives it an upbeat reading, but the best parts of the performance are the solos from Bob Enevoldsen on valve trombone and Howard Roberts on guitar. An elegant version of “Midnight Sun” that shows Troup at his best follows. A haunting “Laura” is the first of two instrumentals on the album. The jumpy “Jeepers Creepers” is the other.
Two of the classic Mercer collaborations with Harold Arlen, “That Old Black Magic” and especially the bluesy “One for My Baby,” are handled with style. Troup’s treatment of this last is an absolute revelation. The oft-recorded “Skylark” and “I’m With You,” the one piece on the album not associated with Mercer, conclude the disc.
Since the original album was a 10-inch vinyl LP, the amount of recording space was limited, and unfortunately the disc’s eight songs only take up about 25 minutes. I would imagine that buyers of the CD, if they are anything like me, would have appreciated it if some additional music could have been added.