Past Reviews

Sound Advice Reviews

Philip Chaffin
Somethin' Real Special: The Songs of Dorothy Fields


PS Classics

"Turn off that charm for a while," goes the lyric of the tasty opening track, "Remind Me," on Philip Chaffin's hot-off-the-press, warm new CD. But nothing can turn off the Chaffin charm. It's intrinsic and entrenched. And hooray for that. Chaffin, with unspoiled zeal and a feel for a romantic lyric, comes across as a true believer in true love. For his fourth solo CD, he fills his album and heart with the lyrics of the versatile long-careered Dorothy Fields. We get her many flavors: pluck, pizzazz, passion, playfulness and unaffected sweetness (no artificial sweetness her). The 15-track album is a welcome mix of the standards (refreshened rather than rehashed) and worthy rarer material, including the previously unrecorded song that gives Somethin' Special its title.

In the older and less worldly lyrics, the baritone comes off as boyish without being coy or a cardboard leading man. Even with jauntier tempi, he judiciously inserts real feeling and point of view. While many can be blamed for making "I'm in the Mood for Love" and "Don't Blame Me" mawkish or fawning, this savvy guy lets these two 1930s Jimmy McHugh melodies move, and combines them in a stir-briskly mash-up. It's a celebration of loving, falling in love, jumping into love—rather than sighing and wishing from afar. Although it's a far cry from the way others have approached these two, the lack of preciousness and presence of confidence make for an appealing new look.

Besides the fine singing, the very healthy sound, there is acting going on. Sometimes it's illustrated by the overall enthusiasm embracing what some would feel is quaintly dated. In "Alone Too Long" (from By the Beautiful Sea with Arthur Schwartz' music), the breathy, halting style really does communicate the feeling of what the lyric presents: "I'd kiss you if I dared/ I want to, but scared." Frustration and the "anger and hope and doubt" all come through in Sweet Charity's "Where Am I Going?" Cy Coleman's musical lines are respected; his melody to "You're a Loveable Lunatic" from the 1973 Seesaw gets a great outing as its naturally phrased performance and arrangement/orchestration all give us a sense of character. Like Fields, Chaffin can add the down-to-earthiness that makes this situation song avoid being too bitter or brittle. Never condescending, he's a willing partner for a quirky person.

With nine contributing orchestrators, a lush string section graces some tracks and bright brass shines on others. Variety in sound does abound, and we get a little (or a lot) of everything, mood-wise, from the sublime intentionally ridiculous.

Somethin' Real Special radiates. And I find somethin' real special—that rare blend of gallantry and goofiness—on a favorite track: "A Cow and Plow and a Frau" that lets this farmboy plow the fields of song and we all reap the benefits.

- Rob Lester

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