Rod Stewart has spent most of the past decade exploring the Great American Songbook. With his latest collection, Fly Me To the Moon…The Great American Songbook Volume V, Stewart is bringing the popular series to a close. Having already sold seventeen million copies worldwide with the first four volumes, fans of the series are likely to enjoy the new one.
The arrangements on the dozen songs were handled by producer Richard Perry, co-producer Lauren Wild, and Mike Thompson. While they are uniformly professional and tasteful, they’re also a bit stiff and lifeless. That’s a common criticism of this series, one not aided by Stewart’s rather pedestrian vocal approach. Though his aging voice isn’t what it was during his early 1970’s heyday, he hits the right notes and generally sounds fine. There just isn’t any spark of originality in his interpretations.
With so many existing versions of these songs, sung and played with greater depth of emotion by other artists, the obvious question is: why Rod Stewart? Old as they are, it’s not as if recordings of the same (or similar) material by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, or Ella Fitzgerald are hard to come by. I think the answer is equally obvious: Rod Stewart has a legion of fans that cross over many musical genres. Whether it be his early bluesy rock years with the Jeff Beck Group and Faces, or the MOR pop he cranked out in the ’80s, Stewart has simply had an astonishingly successful career. He’s a brand name and no matter what direction he takes, throngs of fans are certain to follow him.
If this is how treasured classics from the Great American Songbook are to remain in the public consciousness, so be it. What’s wrong with someone discovering the timeless beauty of these songs via homogenized versions? Maybe it will lead the listener to explore alternatives. Even if it doesn’t, at least the music lives on in some form. Besides, Fly Me To the Moon really isn’t all that bad. “Sunny Side of the Street” shuffles along playfully. Stewart confidently swings his way through “September In the Rain,” with a nice solo by Alex Navarro on vibes.
Predicting the impact of this album, Clive Davis said, “Dinner parties all over the world will never be the same.” Davis, currently Sony Music’s Chief Creative Officer, isn’t an industry legend for nothing. He’s absolutely correct about the function of the album. While it may have a somewhat generic feel overall, this dainty dozen will serve as acceptable background music for many a social gathering. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it merely provides slickly produced evergreens sung by an old pro.
Fly Me To the Moon…The Great American Songbook Volume V is also available as a deluxe edition with six additional songs.