Friday, August 31, 2012

Review - The Midtown Men "Sixties Hits"

November 6, 2005, saw the official Broadway debut of The Jersey Boys. The musical, which tells the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons rise to fame, would quickly catch fire and garner its own version of fame for its well-told story and even better performed musical numbers.  Many of those numbers were Valli’s own and when performed by these dynamic young performers, they found new life.  That life led to the musical garnering tons of press, multiple tours, and, on  June 25, 2011, the musical became the 25th longest-running show on Broadway.

But, in show business and as in life, all good things must come to an end.  And the same was for many of the original cast.  Yet, all was not lost for these young men as they chanced to turn their newfound fame into a revived career for themselves and for the music that they love.  So, as they departed the lights of Broadway, Christian Hoff, Daniel Reichard, Michael Longoria, and J. Robert Spencer came together to form The Midtown Men.

The overall scope of The Midtown Men seems to be to maintain and secure the integrity of the great music gone by.  These guys are faithful to the original material while investing their own passion into the work as well.  The result is something very nostalgic and evokes a feeling of a day gone by, in a good way.  When these guys sing, you can picture something of the Rat Pack and tons of Vegas appearances, Oceans 11-flavored hijinks, and drinks shaken, not stirred.

Perhaps the biggest challenge here on their debut, Sixties Hits, is that The Midtown Men choose to offer up all cover songs here.  Therefore, there’s nothing new to be judged save for their performance and the arrangements.  That can be a refreshing element in some ways and, in others, quite a roadblock.  Thankfully, for this quartet, it works in their favor.

So, with the source material deemed above reproach the question really does come down to the performances.  And there’s very little negative to be said.  The group opens up the album with a rousing medley of hits, joining “Let’s Hang On/Working My Way Back to You/Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” with aplomb, the high notes spot on and the harmonies stunning.  The backing arrangements are faithful to the originals and performed with perfection, putting the artist’s voices right up front.

After that rousing start, the Men turn their sights on The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love.”  The arrangement features a bit of horn work, which is nice, and, while the overall package doesn’t quite capture the harmonies of the original, the bit of swing-infused fun that’s injected here gives the song a lift.  “Happy Together” follows after and is better as a sum of its part, with the group vocals definitely outshining the individual lines here and showing the comfort of these voices together.

A bit of Motown comes into play with the rocking rendition of Marvin Gayes’s “Ain’t That Peculiar” while their take on “Dawn” let’s those falsetto’s and tenor vocals shine.  “Candy Girl” is as saccharine sweet as the original, the high notes ringing true throughout and the synergy stunning as they flow into a mid-tempo take on “Up On the Roof.” It’s another track where the solo vocal is solid but the harmonies truly make things happen.

“California Dreamin’” is enough to make The Mamas and the Papas sit up and take notice, the faithful cover managing to evoke solid points of vocal emotion and poise while “Big Girls Don’t Cry” steps in and truly steals the show, finding the group tackle the doo-wop pop with passion and massive skill.  It’s easily the best track on the album and is followed up by the playfulness of “Bye Bye Baby,” a star in its own right.

Amazing source material, faithful arrangements, and stunning vocal deliveries are the hallmark of The Midtown Men’s Sixties Hits.  While these songs beg for a live audience performance, in the meantime, this album does a fine job of capturing the spirit of the past and planting it squarely into a new millennium.  For those in favor of the return of doo wop and more, give a tip of the hat (and buy the album!) to The Midtown Men for sure.