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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Mathis Still Has That Sweet Touch

May 12, 1997|DON HECKMAN

Is it possible that Johnny Mathis has a portrait of himself in his attic somewhere that is revealing deteriorating signs of age while he, himself, remains fit and youthful-looking?

In his concert at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza on Friday night, Mathis, now approaching 62, looked and sounded like the youthful balladeer who successfully countered the arrival of rock 'n' roll in the '50s and '60s with a remarkable string of hits. His voice still a sweet-sounding baritone, his vibrato as quivery as ever, he easily and comfortably worked his way through "Chances Are," "It's Not for Me to Say" and other hits.

The packed audience--many of whom were probably teenagers in the late '50s, when Mathis' records were generally considered the ultimate soundtracks for making out--responded enthusiastically, occasionally singing along.

Mathis accepted the accolades with charm and grace. His pleasant demeanor and his youthful, easygoing manner were all the more remarkable in a performer who has managed to follow his own path for more than three decades. Although he has periodically touched upon disco, dance and R&B rhythms, his essential style--vividly apparent in a program in which he was backed by a full, lushly arranged orchestra--has been untouched by changing trends.

At his best, the ageless Mathis remains the consummate pop ballad singer.

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