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Mining the Best From the Golden Age of Song : DEWEY ERNEY: "Standards of Excellence, Volume I: Dearly Beloved" Resurgent Music (***)

June 14, 1996|BILL KOHLHAASE

Singer Dewey Erney knows how to cast a song in its best light, how to illuminate its melody and lyric and bring both into focus. Expert at smooth, direct phrasing, smart about which words and lines to accent, Erney makes his listeners feel the genius behind the material he sings.

Those qualities are what make Erney's first album for Orange County-based Resurgent Music so satisfying. "Dearly Beloved" also shows Erney's impeccable taste in music and broad knowledge of the Great American Songbook.

The composers and lyricists represented here read like a Who's Who from the golden age of popular music--Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, Fats Waller, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein--and the songs, "Invitation," "Jordu (Where Did You Go?)" and "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," easily cross the faint boundaries between jazz and pop standards.

Surprisingly, Erney accomplishes all of this with a rather ordinary voice. He doesn't have the caramel-colored tones of an Al Jarreau nor the haunting resonance of a Johnny Hartman. His is an Everyman's voice, working-class and committed to excellence. He succeeds on knowledge of his craft and by applying warmth and personal touches to everything he sings.

Listen to the way he draws listeners in as he sings "It Never Entered My Mind," eliciting sympathy as he traces the daily tedium of single life. He delivers a strong sense of sincerity as he sings the optimistic yet heartbroken lament "Hello Young Lovers." The slow, considered pace of "Invitation" underscores the excitement and frustration of a potential love affair.

Erney gets empathetic support from pianist Brian O'Rourke, whose introduction to the title tune, with its references to Miles Davis' "Miles Ahead," sets an intelligent tone carried throughout the disc. Bassist Benjamin May plays with a smart reserve, establishing the barest framework with a few well-chosen notes.

"Dearly Beloved" reminds us that singing is a craft and that it takes more than just a pleasant voice to be convincing. And Dewey Erney, a vocal craftsman, is a local treasure indeed.

* Dewey Erney sings Sunday at Restaurant Kikuya, 8052 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach. 6:30 p.m. $10 minimum food/drink purchase. (714) 536-6665.


Albums are rated on a scale of * (poor) to **** (excellent), with *** denoting a solid recommendation.

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