Richard Lanham is what you call an old pro. Thou Swell may be his first album of jazz standards as leader, it may have taken fifteen years from the time it was recorded for it to get released, but even a glimpse at his biography makes it clear that this is a veteran singer who knows his way around a song. At the age of 12 he was already singing with some of his brothers in a Doo Wop group called The Tempo Tones. Later he sang weekends with the rhythm section that played with Miles Davis. He toured with the Ink Spots and The Boateneers. Then, there were gigs with The Drifters and Speedo and The Cadillacs. Thou Swell, a collection of a dozen of his favorite standards, is the culmination of all those years of experience.
In a set that teases with hints of singers like the great Nat ‘King’ Cole and Joe Williams, Lanham delivers the kind of musical montage that will have old timers reminiscing with smiles on their faces. These are the songs of their youth delivered with stylish grace. He begins with his swinging take on the Rodgers and Hart classic from A Connecticut Yankee, “Thou Swell.” He slows things down with has version of Neil Sedaka’s fifties pop tune, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.” Jerry Weldon’s arrangement provides for a soulful guitar solo fom Peter Bernstein. The Ray Charles rocker “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” is filled with flirty sass in a dynamite arrangement.
“Stardust,” “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home,” and especially “Unforgettable” all owe something to the singer’s love of Nat ‘King’ Cole. Joe Magnarelli adds some inspired trumpet accents on “Stardust” and Keith Saunders piano work on “Unforgettable” is just about perfect for the romantic vibe of the song. The calypso medley which recalls early Harry Belafonte comes off as something of a novelty number, and frankly it seems out of place with the rest of the album. He works with drummer Joe Strasser, bassist Bim Strasberg and Saunders’ piano on Cole Porter’s “All of You” and they all swing with the rest of the ensemble riffing on “I’m Beginning to See the Light.”
“Amor” features Dan Block on flute and some Latin percussion from Daniel Sadownick. The Gershwin tune, “Isn’t it a Pity,” is the one tune on the album which I don’t remember having heard before. It’s an atmospheric ballad sung with emotional honesty. The album concludes with a fine rendition of “I Wish You Love” introduced by “Goodbye.” It is another of the fine Weldon arrangements.
Richard Lanham is a fine singer; Thou Swell is an excellent album. It’s unfortunate that it took 15 years for it to be released. We can only hope it won’t take 15 more years for a sequel.