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Tom Wopat
I've Got Your Number

Tom WopatTOM WOPAT
I'VE GOT YOUR NUMBER

LML Music

His prior solo CD began with the anthem of acceptance that's tinged with determination, "That's Life." This time out, Tom Wopat casts his vision and life-loving philosophy on "The Good Life," "The Secret o' Life" and even "The Afterlife" (interestingly, the last parts of Paul Simon's "Afterlife" are omitted, losing a couple of especially God-referencing lines as well as the original's irreverent ending—but this quirky bit about filling out a form and having to wait in a line at the gates of Heaven still works). In one of two impressive songs he wrote himself, he relates to a young man "as he seizes the day," saying he still can "look forward to each and every day/ Never back over my shoulder," reminding me of an album of his that goes all the way back to the days of yore and vinyl, called Don't Look Back. I can embrace that theory, and he makes a strong case for it in another strong outing, but if we do look back on his recording career, we can see an interpreter/storyteller/mood-setter whose skills grow and mellow. We'll assume that a series of acting jobs in Broadway musicals only helped him really get inside lyrics and sing those he didn't write as comfortably as those he did.

Whether brightly brimming with optimism or—as in "Born to Be Blue"—telling a tale of woe, Wopat makes it all sound effortless, without artifice, without sweat. To borrow a title from a revival he was in, doin' what comes natur'lly; as James Taylor's simple but wise "The Secret o' Life" tells us, "Try not to try too hard." While Mr. Mellow sounds laidback to be sure, it's rarely to the point of blasť; the guy sounds involved and thoughtful. There's serenity that seems to emanate from a place of inner security, but it's not about bravado or swagger by any means. With his relaxed demeanor, vocal mix of gruff and sweet, he comes off as a guy who knows himself because of having tried to. So, the lyrics roll off his lips and persona as someone who's lived and loved and learned, but isn't out to prove anything, just knowing whereof he speaks and having his eyes wide open by choice.

The title number of I've Got Your Number (from the musical Little Me by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh) is nicely echoed subtly in a line from the other original: "She got my number, more or less/ She knows how to handle me, I must confess" ("Summer Dress" about a gal with an "aphrodisiac"-like clingy frock). The moods—lusty, reflective, hopeful, "Devil May Care," wary—all cling to him as he wraps himself up in the various musical fabrics woven through this fine album. Whereas many make the glorious "The Folks Who Live on the Hill" by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II ultra-dreamy to the point of impossibly idyllic, Tom takes a different road up that hill, singing the lines as if they're reality-based—you can see the house and view the view from that veranda and kind of feel the love for the life partner in the home sweet home. He doesn't shy away from real, deep-seated feelings, but they never feel globbed on, and the singing serves the song.

Wopat also seems very comfortable in the recording studio itself. There's atmosphere, there's ambiance, there's character. The sessions' bass player extraordinaire David Finck again co-produced, and Wopat co-produced with returning musical director Tedd Firth who's on piano on some tracks, sharing keyboard/arranging duties with John Oddo and Henry Hey. Solos on piano, bass, trumpet, and sax add different flavors, and a a string section in employed on occasion, adding lushness and depth. Some instrumental "breaks" are longish, but carry the mood and the ball.

This team effort is sublime, with items by Bruce Springsteen ("Meeting Across the River") meeting oldies like "I Won't Dance" and '60s pop like "Call Me" and all sitting as comfortably side by side as the singers and musicians seem to be. Much comes to the table, but no one feels like an awkward guest.

Tom Wopat will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs (MAC) at their annual awards show on March 21. He'll accept the honor and perform; his recent cabaret work was at the new nightclub 54 Below, which is also getting a special award.


- Rob Lester


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