By Michael Evans
THE CALENDAR MAY SAY 2005, but music these
days has a distinctly 1940s sound. From reformed
rockers to suave young Turks, we’re swooning for
crooners all over again.
Historically, this genre has been considered the
exclusive bastion of male singers. While sensuous
songstresses from jazz icon Billie Holiday through
contemporary vocal stars Norah Jones and Diana
Krall could give anyone a run for their money, purely
as a matter of traditional semantics, the men have the
corner on the croon.
Suffice it to say, today’s male vocalists owe a debt
to their forefathers-in-croon. Bing Crosby helped
trailblaze the way for that scrawny kid from Hoboken,
New Jersey, the legendary Frank Sinatra. With impeccable phrasing and a galvanizing stage presence,
Sinatra became the crooner gold standard, spawning
generations of contenders for his musical throne.
In his sharp suit, replete with strategically loosened necktie, Canadian wunderkind Michael Bublé
sure cultivates the look of an Ol’ Blue Eyes cultist.
But dig beneath the cover of his third release, the
ebullient It’s Time, and one finds more than a
smartly packaged Sinatra wannabe. Bublé’s effervescent delivery serves him well as he tackles sturdy
standards such as “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” or
adventurously recasts the Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me
Love” as a swing fling. Another blue-chip find by
Grammy Award–winning pop producer/composer
David Foster (who also groomed Josh Groban),
Bublé has quickly established himself as the great
20-something hope of the new crooner nation.
One may wonder how performers using a style
and songs a half-century old have carved such a
prime chunk of market share from more modern
sounds such as hip-hop and electronica. “These are
timeless songs done in a timeless way,” explains
Steve Waxman of Warner Bros. Records.
The Costco Connection
Members can find CDs from crooners, wailers,
rockers and more at their local Costco.
ALTHOUGH NOT exactly the
equivalent of the Rat Pack, Il
Divo certainly qualifies as
the new crooning’s reigning
vocal group. The result of a
worldwide talent search by
American Idol judge Simon
Cowell, these so-called
“Knights in Shining Armani”
are the million-selling surprise
of the year. Incorporating classical and opera into the timeless boy-band pop template,
Il Divo works under the idea
that four Andrea Bocellis (or
Placido Domingos) are better
than one. On their self-titled
debut, David Miller (U.S.),
Sébastien Izambard (France),
Urs Buhler (Switzerland)
and Carlos Marin (Spain)
advance a multilingual agenda
of making the world safe for
“popera” with smoldering
romanticism. Their second
album, The Christmas Collection, is available now at most
PHO TOS COUR TESY OF: WARNER BROS.; SON Y; J RECORDS; 143 RECORDS/REPRISE; S YCO MUSIC/BMG.
The crooner roster includes
stalwarts Harry Connick Jr.,
Rod Stewart and Neil Diamond
(left to right) and up-and com-ers Michael Bublé (above) and
Il Divo (left).
The advantage of youth and
good looks has not hurt Bublé and his
ilk, either. Though maximum radio play remains
desirable, television has become the key source of
exposure for Bublé and other new crooners, such as
Peter Cincotti and Jamie Cullum.
While crooner music certainly counts on the
baby-boomer contingent as its cornerstone audience, there is proof that Bublé et al. nonetheless can
brag of fans in their own age group as well. Terry
Currier, owner of Music Millennium, Portland,
Oregon’s oldest independent retail music outlet,
reports a noticeable multi-generational contingent at
“new crooner” shows. “The older artists typically
attract older audiences, but for the younger ones it’s
not unusual to see moms and daughters at shows,”
Rod Stewart may be old enough to be Il Divo’s
dad (see sidebar), but pound for pound Stewart may
still be one of the best crooners of today.
A soulful interpreter, the Rock and Roll Hall of
Famer excels with choice George Gershwin and Cole
Porter tunes. The Great American Songbook series
has revitalized Stewart artistically and commercially,
with the fourth and most recent volume, The Great
American Songbook IV, containing some of the most
memorable performances of his 30-plus-year career.
Holding its own amongst seemingly more cut-ting-edge genres, the crooner legacy thrives as today’s
practitioners—whether 20-something or 60-some-
thing—put a decidedly 21st-century spin on the
great American songbook. What’s old is new, and
new is old, but lovingly rendered love songs never go
out of style. C
Michael Evans is a Portland, Oregon–based
freelance writer and budding karaoke crooner.