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Dukes of Hazzard go uptown

The Still of the Night
The Still of the Night
By Tom Wopat

Angel Records: 2000

This review first appeared in the October 29, 2000 edition of the American Reporter.

When you get something like this in the mail, unannounced, it's kind of like waking from a too-long nap: You look at what's in your hand, and your brain registers what your eyes are seeing – yet it somehow just doesn't quite make sense.

So you hold it in your hand and stare at it, trying to bring everything into focus. A collection of jazz standards from ... Tom Wopat? Luke Duke from the "Dukes of Hazzard" TV show? That Tom Wopat? The guy who released a series of decent if not particularly noteworthy country albums in the '80s?

One and the same. And, as it turns out, a Yankee by birth (Wisconsin) whose upbringing was steeped more in show tunes and jazz standards than in honky tonk or bluegrass.

So now Tom Wopat has come home to the music he loves and prefers, to the timeless standards of Harold Arlen and Cole Porter, of Rogers & Hart, Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loeser.

Producer Russ Titelman surrounded Wopat with top-flight jazz musicians on this date: John Pizzarelli on guitar; his dad, Bucky Pizzarelli, also on guitar; Steve Jordan on drums; Marc Johnson on bass.

The arrangements are spare, and keep the focus on Wopat's rich baritone voice, a voice seemingly made to caress the lyrics from "Let's Fall In Love," "Makin' Whoopee," "Where or When" or the title track.

Also noteworthy is the first ever recording of Tony Bennett's daughter, Antonia, in a duet with Wopat on "Baby It's Cold Outside." Her high, thin voice is similar to the late Minnie Ripperton's, and it might get old after awhile, but for one song, balanced against Wopat's deep vocals, it's near-perfect.

If there's a complaint here, it's that there are no real uptempo tracks – everything has kind of a slow lounge groove to it. A faster number or two to shake the mood up a bit would have been welcome.

But this is a fabulous album, with Wopat's style and voice meshing together to create new magic from old favorites.