Hughie Mac Sings Some Great Songs Part 4
Hughie Mac definitely has ambition to burn. It isn’t the boisterous, chest beating type of ambition announcing here I am to anyone listening, but understated instead. It’s delivered with the sort of stylishness and command that is in short supply in recent years. It’s easy to label the Philadelphia based Mac a throwback – many of the songs he’s covered over the course of his four Sings Some Great Songs are a half century old or older, but Mac proves they are durable compositions thanks to his effortless panache and the obvious reverence he has for the material. He doesn’t treat them like brittle china that can fracture if he applies too much force – Mac makes every effort to claim these songs as his own and add to their rich history with his interpretative skills.
If nothing else, you can’t help but admire Mac’s selection of material. He’s proven over the course of four releases and counting that he understands what great American songs are and his definition doesn’t end with big band tunes, ala Sinatra, but includes a diverse array of performers and writers like Glen Campbell and Jimmy Buffett among others. He opens this release with the classic “Almost Like Being in Love” and the vocal and instrumental excellence alike it enough to make this a memorable opener. Mac does a first class job conveying the playfulness of the song’s lyric and his rich, warm voice is well suited for the cut.
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The first of two Jimmy Buffet songs included on the release, “Changes in Latitudes”, is arguably the lesser known of the two but far less of a “gimmick” song than the later “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. Mac handles well this introspective and slightly melancholy example of Buffet’s songwriting – one can hear the additional feeling Mac invests in its lyrical content suggesting Mac has a stronger personal connection to the song than most. The elegiac tone of the songwriting enjoys complementary musical accompaniment that’s thoughtful and layered.
His cover of Garth Brooks’ “Two Pina Coladas” dispenses with the Latin flavor influencing Brooks’ original for a more Americanized and straight-forward musical approach, but it isn’t a weakness. If anything, it’s another mark of how Mac works hard to distance his covers from the originals enough to make his interpretations his own rather than slavish imitations. His take on Sinatra’s “My Way” is cut from a similar cloth. A survey of this album and the preceding three releases shows Sinatra is a musical touchstone for Mac, which makes it even more amazing he refrained from taking this song on until the fourth release in the series. Covering this song demanded the right timing – I’m sure Mac wanted to have the best possible arrangement in place before he dared attempting it. It’s a wholly satisfying version of an iconic track. His boisterous and life-affirming take on “New York, New York” is another high point on the release. Hughie Mac has chosen another stunning cross-section of popular songs for this release and it deserves consideration as the most fully realized entry in this series of recordings.