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05/28/2013 03:22 pm ET | Updated Jul 28, 2013

Easy Listener: Tom Wopat, Kevin Dozier, John Lloyd Young Are Singers You Need to Know

Hey music lovers, let's consider--for want of a better term--pop crooners. At the moment, the greater listening public seems to think there are only two worth knowing. They probably don't even need to be named. Nevertheless, they will be: Michael Bublé and Josh Groban. Of them, just keep in mind that the former seems deliberately to have staked out post-Frank Sinatra territory for good or bad and the latter has pledged himself to a characterless emotionality that eventually makes everything he sings sound like everything else he's just sung.
For that reason, it might be helpful for fans of popular singing to know about CDs--or downloads where available--from three men who bring much more to their work, who infuse their singing with personality, strength, subtlety, a notable good taste for material and a devotion to the texts and subtexts of the lyrics they sing. More than that, they each work with superb producers, musicians and arrangers, in many instances the best practitioners that New York City has to offer.
Tom Wopat: "I've Got Your Number" (LML): It's possible television watchers still think of him as the Dukes of Hazard fella and don't realize he's become a first-rate Broadway leading man and character actor. (Right now he's in the revival of Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful, alongside Cicely Tyson). They might not be aware that, despite several tangy previous CDs, he brings to his chanting the same masculine grace he brings to his roles.
Wopat's baritone is laced with just the right amount of grit, and he employs it entirely without of tricks. In a wide range of material old, recent and new he allows the words to speak for themselves. Here's a man who can give knowing urgency to "The Good Life" and then turn around and instill sly irony, even muted tragedy, into Bruce Springsteen's "Meeting Across the River."
Wopat deals with three arrangers for this superb album. (Is the word "album" acceptable these days or just laughable?). Those dream weavers are John Oddo, Henry Hey and Tedd Firth, Wopat's usual musical director when he's in the intimate boites. A listener would be a fool to say any one of the three does better than the other two, but maybe it's fair to suggest that Firth's way with the Oscar Hammerstein II-Jerome Kern "The Folks Who Live on the Hill" is breathtaking in its succession of unexpected, perhaps previously lost piano chords.
"I've Got Your Number" is a clever title, since he's got 14 head-of-the-class numbers for you, including Paul Simon's hilarious "The Afterlife." And the collection may also fill Wopat fans in on his adept songwriting. The sexy, simmering "Summer Dress" is one. The inordinately savvy "I Still Feel That Way" is the other. This one's about growing older and says, in part, "I still feel that way/Even though I'm so much older now/Look forward to each and every day/Never look back over my shoulder." Good for him and for all who are hip (cool?) enough to agree.
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Kevin Dozier, "Love's Never Lost" (Bannock): The first thing that the immensely likable Dozier brings to his crooning is a tone remarkable for its simultaneous vulnerability and power. Wisely, he sometimes ends his numbers on the powerful end of things and just as often with heart-breaking extended notes. Because he leans on ballads throughout most of the tracks, this is one of those romantic outings that might in an earlier time have been described as songs for swinging lovers.
If a standout selection has to be tagged, it's his combination of Irving Berlin's "Always" with Jerry Herman's "Time Heals Everything." The arrangement is by Alex Rybeck, who arranged the entire package. How imaginative he and Dozier are on "If Ever I Would Leave You," "Wonderful, Wonderful," "I'll Tell the Man in the Street," Noel Coward's bittersweet "Sail Away" and the title tune, which is a nicely done ersatz folk song cut from the Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty musical A Man of No Importance.
Rybeck also wrote the amusing and touching "What a Funny Boy He Is" (with Michael Stewart) and "Hold to My Hand" (with Carol Hall). Both add to his valuable contributions. Among the musicians he conducts are bassist Jered Egan, cellist Yoed Nir and guitarist Sean Harkness--all of whom usually turn up when Dozier (who often mentions he's a businessman by day) sings in person.
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John Lloyd Young, "My Turn..." (Made in the USA): Life changed for John Lloyd Young, who trained as classical actor, when he landed the role of Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys. Suddenly, he was a heartthrob with a falsetto. Having appeared in the click tuner, left it and returned to it for a while, he's decided--and his managers as well--that he should be able to turn his lean dark looks, John Varvatos wardrobe and Valli-like, chameleon-like pipes into chart potential.
On the evidence presented here, there's no reason why he can't get where he wants to go. There's certainly no reason why he won't get dedicated support from middle-aged Jersey Boys advocates who have soft spots in their hearts for the seven--yes, only seven--covers of songs from early rock catalogs.
What are the golden oldies that habitually featured propulsive piano triplets? Not one of them introduced by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, they're "Hurt so Bad" (written in 1965), "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me" (1952), "In the Still of the Night" (1956), "Only You," (1955), "Who's Loving You" (1960), "Since I Fell for You" (1948) and "Hey There, Lonely Girl" (1962).
John Lloyd Young often backs himself up with Pammy Faragher, Jimmy Faragher and/or Tommy Faragher, who's the piano player throughout. Tommy Faragher's the one tripletting like mad, while the star sings these blasts from the past as if he was born to do only this.

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