Harry Connick Jr.

Starplex Amphitheatre, July 23

Harry Connick Jr. and His Big Band

It's been 10 years since Harry met Sally and birthed their little Frankie Jr., 10 years since the son of the New Orleans district attorney went multi-multi and made it safe for young couples in love to cozy up to "But Not for Me" and "Where or When" and other standards done bigger and better by their grandparents. Since then, what's become of Harry Connick Jr.? Well, he became a movie star (sort of, if you don't count Copycat and remember that he was in Independence Day), won a Grammy or two, and released "funk" albums so funkless that they couldn't keep a beat on a leash, only to return to the warm embrace of his big band once he discovered audiences didn't much care for his watered-down Bourbon Street riddim and blooze. Fourteen records in 21 years (sort of, if you count Eleven, recorded in 1978 and re-released as stopgap product by Columbia in 1992), and only a handful of them stick out for the right reasons. Hard to believe the dude was this close to being this close to being -- take your pick -- the Next Ellington, the Next Monk, or, yessiree, the Next Sinatra 12 very long years ago.

Back then, Connick was a prodigy about to shed his shell: His 1987 eponymous debut and 20, its 1988 successor, contained plenty of hints that beneath the movie-star good looks was a kid who didn't need a compass to move around the keys. Sparse, elegant, tough -- that's how he played back then, merging James Booker's pounding with Thelonious Monk's fetish for space. That he could croon like an old saloon singer from Hoboken didn't hurt much back then; it just made him seem like the complete package, the dynamic duo beneath a single cape. At the time of its release in 1989, When Harry Met Sally... was merely the inevitable next step in his evolution: the proof that he could do Sinatra, even if that meant smoothing off the rough, gruff, shattered-heart edges for a top-of-the-pops audience. Fine -- nothing wrong with that record a little experience couldn't have fixed. Surely, it was only a matter of time before he returned Sinatra's voice and started using his own.

The problem was, each successive record seemed like a regression, more of the same-ol'-same-ol'...just with less. (If you can listen to 1990's Lofty's Roach Souffle and remember a single song 14 minutes after you're done, then I've got a copy of 1994's She that's all yours. If you can't, you can still have She. Gimme a call. Seriously.) By the time he got around to 1996's Star Turtle -- this is not a made-up title, even if you've never actually heard or heard of this little gem -- Connick sounded more confused than anyone who's seen Eyes Wide Shut. This guy has no more business making New Orleans "funk" records than Andy Williams. But maybe he knows that: His brand-new Come By Me finds him reunited with his big band, performing a mixture of self-penned "standards" and some reckless redos of yellowing standbys (among them "Cry Me a River," "Time After Time," "Love for Sale," "There's No Business Like Show Business," and "Danny Boy," the last of which he sort of performed in Memphis Belle). Talk about a step backward: It's when Harry met Cole Porter all over again. Gad. It will, of course, sell millions.

 
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