Review: Night Songs II by Barry Manilow
On Valentine’s Day Barry Manilow released one of the most romantic albums you’ll ever hear: Night Songs II. It’s the cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day that we all needed. Back in 2014 Barry Manilow released one of his greatest albums: Night Songs. Met with universal praise, Night Songs was nominated for a Grammy award and fans wanted more. Fast forward six years, and Barry Manilow is back with Night Songs II. This time around you can expect 13 songs, one of which is a bonus track that’s exclusive to the CD-version of the album, all lovingly arranged and masterfully sung by the incomparable Barry Manilow. I love that Barry is comfortable enough in his own skin that he continues to record, produce, and release whatever makes him happy. Most artists aren’t that brave. They simply keep repeating the same old music over and over again, or they merely try to imitate their past. Not Barry. He continues to evolve, explore, and create some of the most compelling music of his substantial and diverse career. Having so much music to enjoy makes being a fan of his immensely satisfying. There’s always something new to anticipate and experience. Speaking of which, let’s take a look at each of the tracks on Night Songs II.
Upon opening my Night Songs II CD, I was met with the following message from Barry:
I was honored when NIGHT SONGS was nominated for a Grammy Award. Making NIGHT SONGS II has been another rewarding experience for me.
Like NIGHT SONGS, this album is filled with great, great songwriting by some of the most talented songwriters ever to put pen to paper.
As the art of writing melodies and emotional lyrics begins to disappear, songs like these mean more to me than they ever have.
Once again, the album is very intimate. Just me singing and playing piano as if I was in your living room.
I hope you enjoy NIGHT SONGS II and as I said before, I hope it introduces you to some songs you’ve never heard and that, like me, you fall in love with them.
Below is my track-by-track review of Night Songs II. I hope you enjoy it, and make sure to pick up a copy of the CD version on Barry’s site to get the bonus track, which is absolutely worth having.
“Everything Happens To Me”
- This 1940 pop standard has lyrics by Tom Adair and music by Matt Dennis. It has been sung by everyone from Rosemary Clooney to Nat King Cole, and it suits Barry’s voice perfectly. It’s a lovely, romantic number that sets the tone for what’s to come on Night Songs II. The hook was stuck in my head in no time, and it’s a track I keep coming back to all the time.
“I’m Old Fashioned”
- From the 1942 film You Were Never Lovelier, this gorgeous song has music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by the great Johnny Mercer. This track is even better than the first, and it’s appropriate that Barry should record a song with lyrics by Johnny Mercer because this album and its predecessor are sequels to 2:00 a.m. Paradise Cafe, and that album was born out of Johnny Mercer’s widow providing Barry with lyrics to set music to for a future record. One of those songs wound up being “When October Goes,” the standout track from 2:00 a.m. Paradise Cafe. “I’m Old Fashioned” contains some of the elements of “When October Goes,” which is probably why I enjoy it so much.
“My Funny Valentine”
- Perhaps the most well known piece of music on Night Songs II, “My Funny Valentine” is from the 1937 Broadway musical Babes In Arms. It features music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Lorenz Hart. This song has been interpreted by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Michael Buble. Barry’s version is warm, emotive, and memorable.
“I Had The Craziest Dream”
- This song appeared in the 1942 film Springtime In The Rockies, and it has music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Mack Gordon. I had never heard the song prior to listening to Barry’s version, which is one of the reasons why I love these Night Songs records so much. They introduce me to songs I otherwise wouldn’t know. “I Had The Craziest Dream” is another romantic song that is expertly played and sung. Just beautiful.
“She Was Too Good To Me”
- The softer piano sound of this song commanded my attention the first time I heard it, and it continues to do so every time I play it. “She Was Too Good To Me” is from the 1930 Broadway musical Simple Simon, yet it still sounds as fresh and potent as ever. As with “My Funny Valentine,” the music is by Richard Rodgers and the lyrics are by Lorenz Hart. Barry’s version of this timeless track is filled with emotion. I especially love his sigh before singing the final word of the song. It’s reflective of how he completely throws himself into a song and lets the narrative take over, which, in turn, fully immerses the listener.
- Released in 1959, this is the most modern number on Night Songs II. With music by Newton Mendonca and lyrics by Antonio Carlos Jobim, “Meditation” has a lovely Brazilian sway to it. It’s a sexy number with a seductive vocal and playful piano. A good one to play to set the mood for a romantic dinner at home.
- This song was released in 1936 and it has music and lyrics by Billy Strayhorn. It’s a vocally and melodically complex number about a failed romance, and many iconic singers have recorded it over the years. Barry choosing a song such as this for Night Songs II is further proof of his acumen as a musician and a performer.
“Isn’t It A Pity”
- From the 1933 musical Pardon My English, “Isn’t It A Pity” has music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin. While the musical it was written for wasn’t a success, this song has stood the test of time. Johnny Mathis, Mel Torme, and Ella Fitzgerald are just a few of the artists who have recorded this song. It’s a pleasant, charming number that Barry handles with an effortless touch.
“Moonlight Becomes You”
- This popular 1942 song appeared in the film Road To Morocco, and it has music by Jimmy Van Heusen and lyrics by Johnny Burke. The best known version was sung by Bing Crosby. However, Barry’s impressive range is used to great effect on “Moonlight Becomes You,” making it his own.
“Little Girl Blue”
- The third Rodgers and Hart song on the album, “Little Girl Blue” originally appeared in the 1935 Broadway musical Jumbo. It’s another song I hadn’t heard before, yet it’s a beautiful one. A softly-sung ballad that feels like a lullaby because of its dreamlike quality.
“Polka Dots And Moonbeams”
- This is one of the greatest song titles I’ve ever seen. And I guess it’s not surprising that the second song on the album involving the moon has the same songwriting team as the first: Jimmy Van Heusen (music) and Johnny Burke (lyrics). It’s a playful, silly song from 1940 that clocks in at less than three minutes. Following “Little Girl Blue,” it’s a pleasant palate cleanser.
“We’ll Be Together Again”
- Other than “My Funny Valentine,” this is the most well known song on this record. Released in 1945, it has music by Carl Fischer and lyrics by Frankie Laine. Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, among others, have recorded this song. Barry makes it his own, and it’s the perfect way to close out the traditional version of the album.
“Like Someone In Love”
- If you buy the CD version of Night Songs II, which you should, you’ll be treated to this upbeat bonus track from the 1944 film Belle Of The Yukon. It’s the third song by Jimmy Van Heusen (music) and Johnny Burke (lyrics) on the album, and it’s one of the standout tracks. Most bonus songs on albums are filler. Not this one! “Someone In Love” is among my favorite numbers on Night Songs II because of its upbeat tempo, fantastic piano playing, and infectious melody. If “We’ll Be Together Again” was the perfect way to end the traditional album, then this is the cherry on top of an amazing musical sundae that everyone should enjoy.