It’s hard to bring something new and fresh to the Great American Songbook, but Cambridge-based singer and pianist, Robin Phillips, has just done that with Re-Versed. A keen music historian, Phillips has previously delved deep into the history of swing, blues and Chet Baker - to reference just a few of his previous projects.
Re-Versed sees Robin uncover some of the missing, ‘sectional’ verses from some of the classics - introductions that appeared in musicals, framing the song, but lost in the annals of time, or verses that got dropped in the best-known hit single versions of the song, and were subsequently forgotten.
The album opens with Time After Time, a song Robin explored as part of his Chet Baker project. The delightful lyrics were written by Sammy Cahn in 1946, with music by Jule Styne. The opening verse is restored. The vocal, and added backing vocal, by Robin Phillips is a delight, and he adds a fine piano solo for good measure. There’s also a strong alto solo, courtesy of Sammy Mayne.
Fran Landesman’s excellent Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most is next. Phillips again restores the original introduction, accompanying himself on piano, before Seb De Krom’s swinging drumming brings in the well-known refrain. I love the swinging intro to It Had To Be You, which Phillips handles with style - and brings a fresh feel to the tune.
As Times Goes By was originally written by Herman Hupfeld for the musical Everybody’s Welcome in 1931, before re-discovered in the movie Casablanca eleven years later. The original theatre verse doesn’t really add much, and is more of a historical curiosity - but Phillips and his band deliver a terrific, swinging version of the tune.
Listen to As Time Goes By here:
These Foolish Things is one of the album’s highlights, a great example of a verse that should have never gone missing! There’s a lovely piano solo by Phillips himself, and some melodic bass playing too, courtesy of Jihad Darwish. It’s nice to hear the vocal version of On Green Dolphin Street for a change, but They Can’t Take That Away From Me is even better, with Phillips completely reinterpreting the tune, to great effect. His funky playing is a revelation here, and there’s a fabulous solo by the great Brandon Allen, who impresses, as always.
The album closes with Don’t Blame Me, which I associate with Nat ‘King’ Cole. There’s a fantastic acappella intro, complete with handclaps, before the band kicks in. Fine solos, too, courtesy of Phillips and Allen, before the handclaps return. A great way to close the album, providing conclusive proof that it’s still possible to find something new in the standards - even after all these years.