THE DOZENS: ESSENTIAL BOB DOROUGH by Scott Albin

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                            Bob Dorough, artwork by Suzanne Cerny

Bob Dorough has often been described as an acquired taste, certainly not shared by everyone. In Will Friedwald’s study Jazz Singing (1990), he wrote: “Anyone who’s ever taken a singing lesson resents the hell out of Bob Dorough for having the nerve to pass himself off as a vocalist.”

On the other hand, Gary Giddins, in one of his Weatherbird columns for the Village Voice in 2000, had the following perspective on Dorough: “He can interpret a lyric as though it were an anecdote. When he goes into bopping swingers, he seems almost indifferent to how much energy he can generate. The whole effect has freaked many, and he has endured some of the most scathing reviews I’ve ever read.”

Recently unearthed from a time capsule buried in 1979, I discovered an old review of mine for Down Beat of a Dorough concert, in which I wrote: “As always, Dorough sang songs with meaningful, sophisticated or witty lyrics, and interpreted them in his one-of-a-kind, nonpareil manner. His voice is not powerful, but he is a totally relaxed, uninhibited vocalist. He would repeat words using entirely different shadings, slide into falsetto or bluesy, coarse-to-syrupy timbres, and scat boisterously, all giving the impression that he was treating each lyric and melody as if he had written them himself, whether he had or not. His long [piano] improvisations were craftily structured, subtly intricate, and as deeply expressive as his singing. His bop-based piano playing had a sprightliness, abandon and unpredictability that hooked the listener almost instantly.” I stand by those words today.

In his lifetime, Dorough has had two fan bases, with some crossover. One, a cult following (definition: small, loyal and enthusiastic) that adores him as a jazz singer/pianist. Two, a much larger audience that loved the many songs he created and sang for ABC-TV’s Schoolhouse Rock. On a gig, Dorough is just as likely to get requests for “Three is a Magic Number” or “Conjunction Junction” as he is for “Baltimore Oriole” or “I’m Hip.” As Bob Dorough turns 85 on December 12, 2008, this Dozens canvasses some of his best tracks, simply a reminder for those already in the know, and hopefully a beginner’s guide for the uninitiated and curious.


Bob Dorough: Devil May Care

Track

Devil May Care

Artist

Bob Dorough (piano, vocals)

CD

Devil May Care (Bethlehem Archives/Avenue Jazz 75994)

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Musicians:

Bob Dorough (piano, vocals),

Warren Fitzgerald (trumpet), Bill Takas (bass), Jerry Segal (drums)

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Composed by Bob Dorough

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Recorded: New York, October 1956

Albumcoverbobdorough-devilmaycare

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

Bethlehem Records folded shortly releasing Bob Dorough's first album, Devil May Care, in 1956, but his debut's many diverse wonders helped seed the beginnings of a loyal (if small) fan base that included Miles Davis. The title track, which Miles would record in 1962, is a defiant, upbeat, rhythmically intense tune that Dorough wrote during his early years in New York spent indulging in the city's frenetic jazz scene. It expresses lyrically how he felt at the time: "Live and love today / Let come tomorrow what may / Don't ever stop for a sigh / It doesn't help if you cry / That's why I'll live and I'll die / Devil may care." Warren Fitzgerald's opening trumpet fanfare, along with Bill Takas's driving bassline and Jerry Segal's taut cymbal pulse, pave the way for Dorough's cocksure vocal, his slight Arkansas twang and soft, occasionally breaking voice making him sound like an engagingly hip hillbilly. Fitzgerald's hearty Clifford Brown-influenced trumpet solo and Dorough's own sprightly piano interlude, prior to his zestful vocal reaffirmation, help complete this signature Dorough track.

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Bob Dorough: Yardbird Suite / Charles Yardbird Parker was his Name

Track

Yardbird Suite / Charles Yardbird Parker was his Name

Artist

Bob Dorough (piano, vocals)

CD

Devil May Care (Bethlehem Archives/Avenue Jazz 75994)

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Musicians:

Bob Dorough (piano, vocals),

Warren Fitzgerald (trumpet), Jack Hitchcock (vibes), Bill Takas (bass), Jerry Segal (drums)

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Composed by Charlie Parker; lyrics by Bob Dorough

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Recorded: New York, October 1956

Albumcoverbobdorough-devilmaycare

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

After spending six formative months performing in Paris, Bob Dorough returned to New York in 1955 just weeks before the death of his idol and friend Charlie Parker. Inspired by the vocalese of Annie Ross, King Pleasure, and Eddie Jefferson, Dorough wrote lyrics for Parker's classic "Yardbird Suite" and recorded this knowing tribute, which has remained prominent in his wide repertoire to this day.

Dorough enthusiastically vocalizes the well-known theme, and also sings breezy lyrics to Bird's solo, a sort of encapsulated telling of the ups and downs of the great bop innovator, both a summation and a shout out to the uninitiated. Imagine a multi-noted phrase like "His improvisation was miraculous" set to a boppish rhythmic pattern. Trumpeter Fitzgerald then offers a searching solo, followed in order by Hitchcock's intricate vibes, Dorough in a percussive piano style similar to Eddie Costa's, and Takas's bass, absorbingly expressive as usual.

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Miles Davis (featuring Bob Dorough): Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern)

Track

Miles Davis (featuring Bob Dorough): Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern)

Artist

Miles Davis (trumpet)

CD

Jingle Bell Swing (Columbia/Legacy)

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Musicians:

Miles Davis (trumpet), Bob Dorough (vocals), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Frank Rehak (trombone), Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums),

Willie Correa (congas, bongos)

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Composed by Miles Davis & Bob Dorough

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Recorded: New York, August 21, 1962

Albumcovermilesdavis-jinglebellswing

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

The cynical, bah-humbug "Blue Xmas" was probably not what Columbia executives had in mind in 1962 when they asked Miles Davis to record a track for a planned Christmas jazz compilation album. Davis turned to Bob Dorough, whom he had met in Los Angeles in the late '50s and would have sit in with his band to sing "Baltimore Oriole." Miles dug Dorough's hip, laid-back singing style. Dorough left L.A. with a song in hand, met with Miles and arranger Gil Evans, and was soon in the studio with Miles's sextet singing the incendiary words to "Blue Xmas."

Miles in his autobiography ungraciously dismisses the whole affair: " … they thought it would be hip if I had this silly singer named Bob Dorough on the album with Gil arranging … The less said about it the better, but it did let me play with Wayne Shorter for the first time…." Actually, Evans's arrangement of the short track is quite representative, the horns and even the bongos skillfully enhancing the effect of Dorough's guileless vocal. "When you're blue at Xmas time / You see through all the waste / All the sham, all the haste / And plain old bad taste … It's a time when the greedy give a dime to the needy." This is indeed a Christmas song for those who hate Christmas, and you even get a Coltrane-like Shorter solo as an extra added bonus, or stocking stuffer, if you will.

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Bob Dorough: Baltimore Oriole

Track

Baltimore Oriole

Artist

Bob Dorough (piano, vocals)

CD

Just About Everything (Evidence 22094)

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Musicians:

Bob Dorough (piano, vocals), Ben Tucker (bass),

Percy Brice (drums)

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Composed by Hoagy Carmichael & Paul Francis Webster

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Recorded: New York, March 1966

Albumcoverbobdorough-justabouteverything

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

No one has ever sung "Baltimore Oriole" better than Bob Dorough. He recorded it on his debut session as leader in 1956, and then again for his second album a too-long 10 years later. Coincidentally, Hoagy Carmichael, its composer (along with lyricist Paul Francis Webster), also sang it in 1956 on his own Hoagy Sings Carmichael. Carmichael's laconic vocal recalls Jack Teagarden, but since Dorough has cited Teagarden as an influence, surely he was at least indirectly influenced by Carmichael's singing as well, although Dorough usually mentions Nat Cole, Satchmo, Louis Jordan, Trummy Young, Joe Mooney and Blossom Dearie as among his other inspirations. The fact that Dorough has participated in recorded tributes to Carmichael, such as Hoagy's Children and Stardust Melody, indicates his profound love and respect for Hoagy's songs.

Dorough's 1966 version of "Baltimore Oriole" is very similar to his original 1956 interpretation in both arrangement and impact. What makes Dorough's delivery of this tune so enduring is that it plays to his strengths on ballads – a soft, delicately endearing timbre, a pliable voice that clearly articulates every word and phrase of a memorable lyric such as this, and in so doing tells a story with sincere emotion and understanding. His "chirping" piano figure to both open and close the piece provides perfectly evocative bookends. He sings the verse unaccompanied before Tucker and Brice join him for the chorus. From "No time for a lady to be dragging her feathers around in the snow" to the concluding "Come down from that bough, fly to your daddy, fly to your daddy now," Dorough has you in his grasp. (Mischievously, in this rendition, Dorough interjects as an aside that the "Tangipahoa" is "a big river near Baltimore, you know," when in fact it runs between Mississippi and Louisiana.)

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Bob Dorough: Three Is A Magic Number

Track

Three Is A Magic Number

Artist

Bob Dorough (vocals)

CD

The Best of Schoolhouse Rock (Kid Rhino 75315)

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Musicians:

Bob Dorough (vocals),

others unidentified

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Composed by Bob Dorough

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Recorded: unknown location, 1973

Albumcoverbobdorough-thebestofschoolhouserock

Rating: 85/100 (learn more)

"Three is a Magic Number" was the first piece Bob Dorough wrote after being hired to create an educational recording to teach kids the multiplication table. Luckily, the project got picked up by ABC-TV, and Dorough became musical director from 1973-1985 for a series of 3-minute animated instructional cartoons on various subjects telecast on Saturday mornings. Contributors to the series overall included Grady Tate, Blossom Dearie, Dave Frishberg, and Jack Sheldon, but Dorough's personal focus was on Multiplication Rock. Countless children were helped to learn math by his clever and often amusing lyrical lessons, and as adults many sought him out years later in jazz clubs to request their childhood favorites.

The original short Dorough vocal of "Three is a Magic Number," backed chiefly by an electric piano (his?), a drummer, and a chorus of singers, sounds much like Paul Simon, with the added homespun sentiment of Mister Rogers. At its folksy, lighthearted core is a simple lesson in multiplying by the number three. However, Dorough's lyrics leave the challenges of elementary math behind at the very end: "A man and a woman had a little baby, yes they did, they had three in the family, that's a magic number."

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Bob Dorough: Nothing Like You

Track

Nothing Like You

Artist

Bob Dorough (piano, vocals)

CD

Beginning to See the Light (out-of-print LP only)

Musicians:

Bob Dorough (piano, vocals), Bill Takas (electric bass).

Composed by Bob Dorough & Fran Landesman

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Recorded: live at Concerts by the Sea, Redondo Beach, CA, April 1976

Albumcoverbobdorough-beginningtoseethelight

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

Bob Dorough's first three albums as a leader came at 10-year intervals, and Beginning to See the Light was the third, on his own Laissez-Faire label. (Regrettably, the LP has never been reissued on CD.) "Nothing Like You" was an early collaboration between Dorough and lyricist Fran Landesman, the latter best known for "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" and "The Ballad of the Sad Young Men." Dorough first recorded it in 1962 with Miles Davis, arranged by Gil Evans, and the brief vocal mysteriously appeared on Miles's Sorcerer release four years later, which puzzled more than a few of the trumpeter's fans.

Bassist Bill Takas performed and recorded with Dorough from the mid-'50s until shortly before his death in 1998, and often in a duo format. They had a special rapport, as can be heard on this track. Dorough plays the churning melody on piano with Takas's reverberating electric bass alternating between unison lines or complementary chords. Subtitled "An Extravagant Love Song," the words that Dorough next emphatically sings indeed offer an abundance of laudatory sentiments regarding a lover: "Nothing can match the rapture of your embrace, nothing can catch the magic that's in your face … no one has your magnificence." Dorough's melodic piano solo is stirring, as Takas sensitively shadows him all the way with a firm yet agile pulse. This live version is twice the length of the one on Sorcerer, and is the better for it.

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Bob Dorough: The End of a Love Affair

Track

The End of a Love Affair

Artist

Bob Dorough (piano, vocals)

CD

Songs of Love (Universal 2001)

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Musicians:

Bob Dorough (piano, vocals), Art Farmer (flugelhorn), Bill Takas (electric bass), Al Levitt (drums).

Composed by Edward C. Redding

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Recorded: live at Caruso's and L'Auditori, Barcelona, Spain, March 4-6, 1987

Albumcoverbobdorough-songsoflove

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

It should come as no surprise that when Art Farmer joined forces with Bob Dorough's trio for some 1987 gigs in Barcelona, Spain, the results were inspirational. Dorough and Farmer brought out the best in each other, both being such astute interpreters of the Great American Songbook.

Dorough always includes the verse if available when he sings a tune, as he does here for "The End of a Love Affair," delivering it in an engaging singsong manner before smoothly entering the chorus. Farmer first appears for his flugelhorn solo, played with a wonderfully rounded tone, and during which he executes some sparkling head-turning runs. Dorough's piano follows with a bluesy emphasis, typically linear and lyrical. Takas and Levitt are in lockstep in their driving support, and Takas, that most tasteful of electric bassists, also provides a thoughtfully concise solo. Dorough returns to scat the chorus in unison with Farmer, an agreeable, unexpected touch, and then he once again does eloquent justice to composer Redding's endearing words. The line "And the tunes I request are not always the best, but the ones where the trumpets blare," definitely does not refer to any of Dorough's and Farmer's performances in Barcelona that March of 1987.

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Jazz Passengers (featuring Bob Dorough): Ring the Bell

Track

Ring the Bell

Group

Jazz Passengers

CD

In Love (High Street/Windham Hill 10328-2)

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Musicians:

Bob Dorough (vocals),

Curtis Fowlkes (trombone), Roy Nathanson (alto sax), Bill Ware (piano, vibes), Josh Workman (guitar), Brad Jones (bass), E.J. Rodriquez (drums)

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Composed by Bill Ware; lyrics by Bob Dorough

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Recorded: New York, 1994

Albumcoverjazzpassengers-inlove

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

Two of the most unique tracks that Bob Dorough ever recorded came on projects produced by the creative Hal Willner. On the first, a 1984 double-LP tribute by various artists to Thelonious Monk titled That's the Way I Feel Now, Dorough and Bobby McFerrin scatted a playfully gratifying version of "Friday the Thirteenth" (unfortunately not included on the CD reissue). Then in 1994, Dorough was one of a select group of vocalists joining the Jazz Passengers on their first major label release, In Love.

Dorough sang his own lyrics to Jazz Passenger Bill Ware's composition "Ring the Bell." Dorough's foreboding words run the gamut of bell-ringing connotations, such as in the boxing ring, at the starting gate, on the auction block, and particularly the death knell: "Now you've reached the final phase … postmortem each bad mistake … greed, ambition, jealous fear … don't keep me waiting, just ring the bell." The horns intone insinuating vamps based on fragments of the melody as Dorough's deceptively soothing voice contrasts with the substance of the downbeat message. Ware's discursive vibes solo adds to the disquieting mood. Dorough's tone becomes darker and more insistent as the tempo accelerates in the closing section and Fowlkes and Nathanson improvise freely.

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Bob Dorough: I Get the Neck of the Chicken

Track

I Get the Neck of the Chicken

Artist

Bob Dorough (piano, vocals)

CD

Right on My Way Home (Blue Note 57729-2)

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Musicians:

Bob Dorough (piano, vocals), Joe Lovano (tenor sax), Christian McBride (bass), Billy Hart (drums).

Composed by Frank Loesser & Jimmy McHugh

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Recorded: New York, May 6, 1997

Albumcoverbobdorough-rightonmywayhome

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

Bob Dorough probably first heard "I Get the Neck of the Chicken" while in the Army during World War II. Introduced in the 1942 film Seven Days' Leave, the orchestras of both Cab Calloway and Freddy Martin recorded it, as did Kate Smith. Dorough's high and unpolished, put-upon voice is perfect for capturing this amusing tale of a sad-sack loser who unexplainably succeeds in his love life: "I get the neck of the chicken / I get the hand-me-down tie / I get the liver and the gizzard / I get the small piece of pie / If I get the neck of the chicken / How did I ever get you?" Some of Dorough's clever lines appear to be of his own creation, not Frank Loesser's, such as his hard-to-resist closer, "You so edibobble, baby, you a drumstick!" (Yet he uncharacteristically leaves out the verse.) Lovano is in exuberant form, both while playing the catchy melody at the open and then later surging through a warmhearted solo replete with authoritative, crisply flowing runs. Dorough on piano frolics lucidly with a distinctly boppish mindset, and bassist Christian McBride offers an articulate and forceful statement as well. At age 73 and on his first-ever release for a major label, Bob Dorough showed everyone that he hadn't lost a step.

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Bob Dorough: I've Got Just About Everything

Track

I've Got Just About Everything

Artist

Bob Dorough (piano, vocals)

CD

Too Much Coffee Man (Blue Note 99239)

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Musicians:

Bob Dorough (piano, vocals), Phil Woods (alto sax),

Joe Cohn (guitar), Tony Marino (bass), Jamey Haddad (drums)

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Composed by Bob Dorough

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Recorded: Saylorsburg, PA, April 18 & December 14, 1998, and May 6 & 28, 1999

Albumcoverbobdorough-toomuchcoffeeman

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

Bob Dorough had been singing "I've Got Just About Everything," the title tune of his 1966 LP, for over 30 years when he recorded it again for his second Blue Note CD. He has called it "a really hip love song with a kind of jazz feel, " and it bears a similar relentless propulsion and ebullience in its lyrics as his "Nothing Like You," another older composition (with Fran Landesman) that he got to record with Miles Davis.

After Phil Woods and Joe Cohn play a spirited intro, Dorough romps through the lyrics with flair, his always-relaxed sense of time making the words flow in the way only an assured jazz singer can. The gist of the message: "Just say you'll be my own, my one and only one, and I can say I've got everything I need." If not, he sings with typical humility, "living without it I might turn out a slob, at best remain a blob." The grossly underappreciated guitarist Cohn solos delightfully with precise, luminous phrasing and a self-contained continuity. Woods's alto then soars with gusto over the enticing changes, followed boisterously by drummer Haddad. Dorough's vocal reprise is capped by Woods's fervent obbligato.
This is among Bob Dorough's most enjoyable works, and one that never grows tiresome.

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Bob Dorough & Dave Frishberg: I'm Hip

Track

I'm Hip

Artist

Bob Dorough (vocals, piano) and Dave Frishberg (vocals, piano)

CD

Who's on First? (Blue Note 23403)

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Musicians:

Bob Dorough (vocals, piano), Dave Frishberg (vocals, piano).

Composed by Dave Frishberg & Bob Dorough

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Recorded: live at The Jazz Bakery, Los Angeles, CA, November 5-7, 1999

Albumcoverbobdorough-davefrishberg-whosonfirst

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

Dave Frishberg became a big Bob Dorough admirer when he heard Bob's first album, Devil May Care, around 1956. When they met in New York several years later, they aspired to become a songwriting team, but little came of it except for an engagingly witty tune that has stood the test of time. "I'm Hip," with Dave's lyrics set to Bob's music, became an obvious choice for their first recording together in 1999, by which time they had each sung it separately countless times.

In his spoken introduction on the CD, Dorough proudly remarks that "I'm Hip" even made a New York Times crossword puzzle (clue: "tune by Frishberg & Dorough"). Dorough takes the vocal to begin, singing a few stanzas before veering off into a scatted interlude that is soon interrupted by Frishberg calling out, "Wait a minute, you think you're hip. Dig on this, homey," and then proceeding to play a bombastic piano figure that sends them both into mock ecstasy. Frishberg vocalizes his remaining lyrics, and, as always, the line that draws the biggest laugh is this: "Now I'm deep into Zen, meditation, and macrobiotics, and as soon as I can, I intend to get into narcotics." At one point Frishberg starts uncontrollably repeating the words "I'm Hip" in a foggy overdone baritone, only to crack up the audience even more by admitting to be doing "a little Arthur Prysock." To hear either one of them sing this tune is worth the price of admission. Together, they are unbeatable.

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Bob Dorough: Comin' Home Baby

Track

Comin' Home Baby

Artist

Bob Dorough (vocals, piano)

CD

Sunday at Iridium (Arbors 19305)

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Musicians:

Bob Dorough (vocals, piano),

Steve Berger (guitar), Steve Gilmore (bass), Ed Ornowski (drums), and the Bobettes (Laura Amico & Roslyn Hart, vocals)

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Composed by Ben Tucker & Bob Dorough

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Recorded: live at the Iridium, New York, February 28 and April 18, 2004

Albumcoverbobdorough-sundayatiridium

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

"Comin' Home Baby" was first popularized by Herbie Mann's instrumental recording for Atlantic Records, with its composer Ben Tucker on bass. Tucker then got Dorough to write lyrics for it, and producer Nesuhi Ertegun convinced a reluctant Mel Tormé to record it for his first album on Atlantic. As Tormé wrote in his autobiography, "It was a minor-key blues tune with trite repetitious lyrics and an 'answer' pattern to be sung by the Cookies, a girl trio that had once worked for Ray Charles…. It was number 19 [on the Billboard charts] for two or three weeks, and then bye-bye 'Baby'."

While Tormé obviously felt he had "sold out" with "Comin' Home Baby," his overly harsh assessment is nonetheless a minority opinion. At the Iridium in 2004, Dorough's regular backup singing duo, the Bobettes, helped him create an infectious version. While the lyrics admittedly may not be among Dorough's best, the melody has always been a grabber. The seductive rhythm originally created by Tucker is sustained here initially by bass, piano and guitar. Dorough next engages in an unpretentious, well-delivered call-&-response recital of the lyrics with the Bobettes. After soulful solos by Dorough's piano and Steve Berger's guitar, Dorough and the Bobettes pick up pleasingly from where they left off. This is plain old hard-to-resist fun. No more, no less.

Reviewer: Scott Albin


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