Album: Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley
Artist: Mel Tormé
Genre: Vocal Jazz
New York disc jockey Fred Robbins dubbed Mel Tormé as “The Velvet Fog” due to his high tenor and smooth style of vocal syncopation. Even though Tormé himself detested the nickname, it’s a perfectly accurate descriptor for his mastery of swing music throughout the 1940s and ‘50s.
Released in 1960, Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley is one of the singer’s greatest albums. Arranged by Marty Paich and featuring a duodecet of talented musicians, the LP is a fiery collection of Broadway showstoppers. Nevertheless, as expected, Tormé makes the songs his own.
The music contains a strong focus on West Coast swing, which is an excellent match for Tormé’s naturally agile voice. As a result, Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley is the rare vocal jazz album in which there is an equal emphasis on both vocals and music. The lead singer brings out the best of the band, and vice versa.
“Too Close for Comfort” opens things up with youthful exuberance. Elsewhere, “Whatever Lola Wants” is a rhythmic dancefloor number that quotes “A Night in Tunisia.” Tormé burns through familiar standards, but the best song is the slowed down and somber “Lonely Town,” which concludes the album on an ambiguous note.
For an artist best known for his live showmanship, Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley remains The Velvet Fog’s finest studio album. To this day, the LP retains a surprising amount of re-playability.