The one standard every musician in the jazz circuit secretly hates playing is Johnny Burke’s “Misty.” The 1954 tune started off as an instrumental by pianist Erroll Garner before Burke turned it into a pop hit that’s been done to death by very basic-to-very-dreadful lounge singers — Sarah Vaughan notwithstanding.
“Misty’s” not on Burke Beautiful — The Songs of Johnny Burke, thank God. But it might as well be. Chorus girl-turned-songbird Sharon Paige and her accompanist, English pianist Keith Ingham, devote an extraordinary amount of time to 16 covers penned in part by the late, overrated, lyricist of the 1920s-‘50s.
The Feb. 3, 2017 Harbinger Records release features the New York-based Paige and her pianist on a hefty collection of mostly lesser-known Burke favorites: “Sleighride In July,” “My Heart Is A Hobo,” “Swinging On A Star,” and “Suddenly It’s Spring.” A fair number of them were written with composer James Van Heusen, and there’s the one and only 1958 gem, “A Hundred Dreams From Now,” with Duke Ellington.
The problem is that Paige’s voice is forgettably old-fashioned at best, and simply basic at worst, which doesn’t help to bring an already old-fashioned songwriter’s style into the 21st century.
There are moments in a song where Paige sings with smooth conviction before her voice goes off (“One Two Button Your Shoe”). Every so often, she’ll break off-tune to talk through a song, which — to the average savvy listener — sounds like cheating.
Even her dulcet tones sound a little too much like your mom singing you to sleep.
The accompanying music does little to stir up the folksy monotone. Ingham plinks on the piano like a Vegas act in “My Heart Is A Hobo” — tinsel flash, cheaply theatrical.
The Dixieland/swing style pianist was actually kind of a big deal in his time back in the ‘70s-‘80s, having worked with Grammy-nominated Maxine Sullivan, Peggy Lee, and Benny Goodman.
Usually on these types of albums, music will save the vocals, serving as an effective, superior, translator and offering an audible respite. The music on this clinker, however, only rides along as inoffensively as possible, doing nothing for the tepid singing.
The flute threading throughout some songs worsens the old-fashioned feel. “You Don’t Have To Know The Language” is positively cringeworthy. Paige’s embarrassing “Ai yai yai” conjures the image of an awkward, backward American living in the 1950s trying to make friends with the locals.
“It Could Happen To You” is the one sweet, minor exception. It’s one of the most unaffected performances in the Johnny Burke collection: spare and pure, spotlighting just the best Paige can bring vocally and Ingham dipping deeply into his bag of tricks, finding pulse points without too much of the jazz flash.
Burke Beautiful’s their second album together.