Songbook albums can be, by turns, problematic and illuminating. On the one extreme, there is the risk of the showcased writer/composer overshadowing the performer. On the other, an inspired marriage of subject and interpreter can speak volumes about both. Think of Joe Henderson's classic Lush Life: The Music of Billy Strayhorn, in which the beloved composer's work is recontextualized as adventurous modern jazz. Fortunately, guitarist/vocalist Perry Beekman confidently navigates the potential pitfalls on his second songbook outing. This time, Beekman shines the spotlight on Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, widely regarded as exemplars of the golden age of American songcraft and an integral part of the canonical body of standards that form the common tongue of jazz.
On Bewitched, Beekman pays homage to the duo's achievements through a series of tasteful and beautifully rendered performances. The album's centerpiece is a lovely solo reading of "It Never Entered My Mind," in which Beekman's tremendous talent on the guitar is on full display. His voice is hushed, matching the rueful tone of the lyric. It is a highlight among highlights. Being as Lorenz Hart's tart lyrics are equal in importance to Richard Rodgers's melodies, it is fitting that Beekman sings as well as he plays. His voice has an appealing "regular guy" quality, owing as much to Dave Frishberg as it does to Nat Cole. Bewitched is a bewitching concoction and well worth revisiting. Perrybeekman.com.