“Let’s Misbehave – The Cole Porter Songbook” (Summit Records)
By Brian Arsenault
You come back from cancer knowing you are mortal — you are therefore human — so Cole Porter’s ability to “cover the human condition” seems so right for Cheryl Bentyne, long of Manhattan Transfer. And it is. Thoughtful, playful, wry, romantic, longing, lustful.
With that cultured, shining voice that sparkles like late summer sun setting on a rippling sea, she brings us all the varied and rich life of those songs. Life — romance, passion, love, misbehavin’ — is at the core of Porter. And Bentyne as well.
She is back from treatment, from her struggle with those demented cells called cancer and she could hardly be better. She’s playful on “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” a playful song. She is moody on “What is This Thing Called Love,” a moody song. She is grateful and pensive on “I Concentrate on You”; a pensive . . . well, you get the picture.
You can almost imagine Cheryl singing in one of Porter’s luxury Paris places while he accompanies on piano — Scott Fitzgerald might be there — she is so right for his music. The song list is so “Alright with Me“: the alluring “Begin the Beguine,” the ironical philosophical “Just One of Those Things,” the easy graceful “I Love Paris.”
If you are more twentieth century than twenty-first, you know these songs, you just know them even if they were written years, decades before you were born. In my notes, I kept wanting to write that this song then this song then this song is at the center of American popular music. I was right each time.
And Cheryl Bentyne’s recording of each one of these songs here could serve as the classic rendition, the real deal version, the core of Porter’s musical vision. “Begin the Beguine” rises to a nearly operatic quality, think Italian aria. “It’s Delovely“ is a little Porter wordplay that shows creativity can come from the light side as well as the dark.
There is joy in his music that makes it endure. The Beatles have that quality. Not so many others.
The musicianship throughout is superb: the late James Moody’s sax wonderful on a couple tunes, Corey Allen echoing Porter’s piano surely, Chris Tedesco perfect where a trumpet is needed and on and on, all of them. I like that Cheryl lists herself as one of the musicians, her voice her superb instrument.
As “It’s Delovely” finally got me to stop taking notes and just listen, sway a little listen, I knew somehow that Cheryl had saved the best for last on this album, confirmed by my journeying to a smoky room that now exists only in black and white films from, say, 1939 in “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” That’s right, it’s not just a song in her hands: it’s a movie, it’s a book, it’s the American songbook.
And the title song done like a tinny recording from the earliest days of making records, well, it’s a treat for all. It concludes the album on such an upbeat note.
One of the things cancer steals is the brightness of your mind and soul. The darkness gathers. When they told me I had it, I wandered out of the doctor’s office and could have been hit by a truck I was so distracted.
But cancer is no longer a certain death sentence. I recovered and this wonderful American artist did as well. To sing the songs of another great American artist.
What one cancer survivor can perceive in another is the recognition that life wherever it springs from — and Porter is all about life — is very, very dear and not to be missed for even a moment.
To read more reviews and posts by Brian Arsenault, including his occasional column, “Short Takes,” click HERE.