It’s interesting to consider what enables popular songs to live on in the memories of multiple generations. Pop music once wasn’t strictly the purview of sultry or handsome young performers exhorting the masses to party or shake their collective bootys; instead, nattily attired vocalists once dominated American stages, television, and radio delivering songs that shaped the experiences and memories of listeners in much the same way modern performers do today. They popularized songs long on melody, conforming to their own formulas, yet resonate with genuine human experience. Vocalist Hughie Mac clearly recognizes the strengths of these venerable tunes and on the third part of his Hughie Mac Sings Some Great Songs series, he demonstrates the common connections between the stalwart standards of the early/mid 20th century and later, rockier counterparts from the second half of the century. This Pennsylvania based vocalist has crafted a real winner with Hughie Mac Sings Some Great Songs Part 3.
The surging horns and energetic percussion driving along his arrangement of “Come Dance with Me” sends the album off with a swinging start. Mac’s voice is foremost in the album mix and he has a smooth delivery that cozies up next to listeners, looking to connect more so than merely perform. The breathy intonation he achieves with the album’s second song “It’s Impossible” is accompanied by a lean, classy musical arrangement that, once again, assumes a supporting role with Mac’s voice. Mac doesn’t scale heady heights in terms of the notes he hits, but he has strong command of phrasing and invokes the long lineage of these tunes without ever sounding too respectful of the originals; instead, he makes them his own while still keeping them recognizable.
“After the Lovin’” has a lush, patient swing that Mac humanizes with an intensely felt singing performance. A characteristic defining the album as a whole is how well Mac orchestrates the textures of these respective tunes, but his interpretative powers are strongest with these sort of songs moreso than the more recent efforts coming later on in the release. The boisterous and brassy strut of “The Lady Is a Tramp” would, undoubtedly, bring a smile to the lips of Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, but Mac doesn’t position himself as a cut rate Sinatra imitator. Instead, his version shares some common reference points, but Mac imbues the lyric and its relationship to the music with his own unique identity. “You Make Me Feel So Young” is a song crossing generational lines in a bigger way than similarly aged tunes included with this album and Mac does an excellent job of capturing the song’s simple joys without ever stretching credibility.
He shifts his focus a bit with the cover of “Cracklin’ Rosie”, a hit originally popularized by Neil Diamond. Mac, thankfully, never throws his hat in with copying Diamond’s performance and that’s fortunate; his voice is a radically different instrument than Diamond’s own. He doesn’t snare the song’s energy in the same way we heard Diamond pursue with this song, Mac is a more tempered singer, but he’s nonetheless quite faithful to the original while crafting something of his own from the track’s template. His cover of “Desperado” is a bit less successful as Mac’s voice doesn’t naturally dovetail into the song’s quasi-cowboy narrative, a true product of his times. No one can finish this album and say Hughie Mac didn’t think enough about this new release. The mammoth effort resulted in a double album bursting with vocal and arranging gifts that make these songs relevant once again for modern audiences.