Harry Connick, Jr.

Harry Connick, Jr.'s new album Come by Me features a picture of him, his hair tousled, his tie askew, his face plastered with a little Mona Lisa, and he's doing this swinger thing with his hips. Okay, I guess you have to admit that the man is sexy (I've always been a sucker for musicians), but maybe he's trying just a bit too hard to be hip. Some have dismissed him as a fluffy nostalgia trip, a pretty boy aping Sinatra, bringing nothing of his own to the table. I would, however, counter that, whatever you may think of his musical style, Harry Connick, Jr., is an extremely talented musician in his own right. Not only can he croon his way into the hearts of the ladies, his new release amply demonstrates that he can still play a mean piano, compose catchy originals, and arrange and direct both a big band and an orchestra simultaneously.

On Come by Me, he teams with his big band again (for the first time in seven years) to produce a very nice compilation of standards and originals. When I say standards, I mean that Connick has really reworked some old warhorses like "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Danny Boy," and "Cry Me a River." He does have a knack for turning what could be as boring as sitting through a long-winded congressional oratory into something novel though, such as transforming "Cry Me a River" into an appealing New Orleans funeral dirge.

If you're looking for a lot of high-stepping big-band tunes, however, then I must warn you that many of the songs on this CD are slow ballads. By far one of my favorite tunes here is the self-penned title track. This New Orleans-style swing number features some impressively quick piano work by Connick and a generally upbeat refrain that makes you want to snap your fingers. The other tune that I adore, and perhaps the most interesting song on the CD, is the funky instrumental "Next Door Blues," which combines big band and blues into an almost retro rhythmic jazz romp. Says Connick in his liner notes: "That's the direction I'm headed, exploring the music I grew up with in the context of a big band. I'll be doing a lot more of this in the future." That's true music to my ears.

Harry Connick, Jr., and his Big Band perform at the Jackie Gleason Theater on Tuesday, August 24. See Concerts for details.