New from Robbie Williams & Earl Klugh
SOUNDS FAMILIAR - Baby A. Gil (The Philippine Star) - April 2, 2014 - 12:00am

Swings Both Ways by Robbie Williams. Rebel Robbie is at it again. The former Take That kid, who never quite fitted into the cute looks, he was too sexy and pop sound, he rocked too much, of a boy band member, has released a new album, that like him defies categorization. His follow up to Take The Crown from two years ago is called Swings Both Ways and as to be expected from Robbie, does more than that. 

Does it answer if he is gay or swings both ways as one of the songs suggests? I do not know. Singing partner Rufus Wainwright says he is “a little bit gay” in the Fred and Ginger sounding duet of the title cut. But what does it matter. As he says in the opening track, Shine My Shoes that he co-wrote, “I don’t care what you think you know, about how I am and how it goes.” 

Now, you cannot really blame this guy for being cocky. As with all that he has done since he left Take That, the singing, the arrangements and choice of songs for this new album are all impeccable. Swings Both Ways is music that swings a lot, that rocks a bit, and is also funny, sexy and filled with Robbie’s usual and I must say endearing bravado.

The album is an apt companion piece to his Swing When You’re Winning that successfully introduced his Rat Pack swagger some 10 years ago. In that career about face that surprised everybody, Robbie took on classics by Frank Sinatra, One For My Baby; Sammy Davis Jr., Mr. Bojangles; Dean Martin, Ain’t That Like A Kick In The Head; and Bobby Darin, Beyond The Sea and the whole album, particularly Robbie, turned out great. His duet of Something Stupid with Nicole Kidman was a huge hit.

Robbie has more of the same in Swings Both Ways plus more. His songwriting skills are in full gear in Go Gentle, Swing Supreme, Snowblind and Soda Pop where he has a rousing swing time with Michael Bublé. Best of his output though is the dramatic but funny No One Likes A Fat Pop Star, where with a grand arrangement complete with a heavenly choir, he recalls that time after Take That when he gained a lot of weight and was indeed a fat pop star.

Also big surprises are what he did with seemingly unlikely choices I Wanna Be Like You featuring Olly Murs, by the Disney songwriting team of Robert and Richard Sherman from the animated film The Jungle Book and If I Only Had A Brain by E. Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen from the well-loved classic, The Wizard of Oz. He got those kiddie songs to also swing the Robbie’s way.

There are also the covers of some oldies. There is a duet of the always lovely Dream A Little Dream with fellow Brit pop star Lily Allen; the swing standards, Puttin’ On The Ritz by Irving Berlin and Minnie The Moocher by Cab Calloway; and a just absolutely divine duet of Little Green Apples with Kelly Clarkson. It is great to hear Kelly in a simple singing mode stripped of her American Idol competition vocals.

Hand Picked by Earl Klugh. It is a fact that most musical instruments easily lend themselves to the freewheeling structure of jazz music. But Earl’s way with the acoustic guitar makes me feel that it was created solely to play jazz. And vice versa. Jazz is more affecting when it is played on the acoustic guitar. By Earl, picking the nylon strings, of course.

Hand Picked, Earl’s latest album, has been on frequent rotation for several days now on my player and it just keeps getting more and more beautiful with every spin. The style is smooth and laidback, deceptively simple and intimate. You think, this is just a guy strumming his guitar, except that Earl, one of the greatest guitarists in the world today, is only making all that difficult handpicking, sound so easy.  

Handpicked, too, are the songs and the mixed bag line-up resulted in what must be Earl’s most commercial album ever. Every cut is outstanding but my favorites are a duet of All I Have To Do Is Dream, the Everly Brothers classic composed by Bryant Boudleaux, with country music star Vince Gill on another guitar; a sparkling Hotel California from the Eagles with Jake Shimarukuro on the ukelele; and what must be the sweetest version of Lennon and McCartney’s If I Fell. 

His originals In Six, Where The Wind Takes Me and Morning Rain lend a lively, synchopated feel to the package and he surprises with the breezy closing cut This Time. The song, a big hit for Al Jarreau is actually Earl’s own composition. 

As for the rest of the cuts, you will have to find that out when you get your copy of Hand Picked. A real keeper, I can already see a glistening Grammy being awarded Earl for his work in this album.

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